Last review of the year. I hope you have a fine end to this year, wherever you are reading from.
My first fascination with literary friendships began with the knowledge of one between Tagore and Yeats, two stalwarts of their time. Since then, I have tried to read correspondences between authors where I can. And this book was on my wishlist too. The nice thing about sharing wishlists for Christmas is that one doesn’t know which book one is going to get. And so on Christmas morning, I was delighted with this waiting for me from my friend Cl.
Stevenson and Barrie – both young Scotsmen, alumni of the University of Edinburgh, and writers of novels for children. They struck up an unusual friendship in that they never met in person. Stevenson had moved to Samoa for health reasons, and Barrie never managed to leave his elderly mother to go visit him. And of course, Stevenson died at 44, so there wasn’t enough time.
But this meant that their friendship developed through these letters – 16 of which have been included in this volume by Michael Shaw. In it, they talk about their works, characters, and the lives they were leading. Barrie was enamoured by Stevenson – not only did he borrow names and mannerisms from the latter’s characters; but he also devised ingenious ways in which their characters might be family to one another. He was also effusive in his praise (and his love) for Stevenson’s literary genius.
Their real-life families feature too. Stevenson’s entire household is part of some letters and Barrie sometimes writes a line or two to each, individually. Barrie, in turn, writed about his mother and also his famous cricket team ‘Allahakbarries.’ This, of course, was the team that included literary greats like Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, A. A. Milne amongst others.
Reading all of this provides the background to the thinking behind some of my all-time favourite characters in literature. And this is a well-written and beautifully presented work.
I spent Christmas last year at my friend’s. M is an author herself, works in publishing and is one of the most prolific readers I know. So staying over at hers means picking something unusual off the copious bookshelves and coming back with a read or five. This time, I picked up Ladies Coupé by Anita Nair. I never got round to reviewing it at the time, so here goes.
This book follows a life-affirming journey of the protagonist – a young Indian woman named Akhila. She works in income tax, is 45 and single, and has just bought herself a one-way ticket to Kanyakumari. While she is trying to escape her stifling Tam-Brahm (slang for Tamil Brahmin – usually denotes a small-minded, conservative culture) life, she is also travelling towards something. On the train, she is sharing a coupé with five other women.
The reader is looking into a fishbowl in which these characters interact. Each woman has her own story and the narrative takes turn in acquainting us with each. Different themes are explored – physical love, the need (or not) for a man, happiness, and the expectations of society from a woman, amongst others,
I read this book over 3-4 days and it completely consumed me. It is deeper than it looks from the blurb, and explores many nuances of hidden emotion. What will we learn, and will we find any answers? Whilst the reader is drawn to Akhila, there is a remote-ness about her which is unsettling. This is a fine novel, and a great example of women’s literature from the subcontinent.
A personal note here: over the last few weeks of lockdown, a number of friends have casually mentioned this blog. I always think of it as rather personal (always have) and I’m flattered that you indulge me so… thank you.
This was another book offered for free at Archipelago Books, what a great selection. Of course, I have heard of Basu, he is very prolific and famous in Bengal. But I have never come across a suitable translation before. This book is a montage of five stories about love. Five gentlemen have to spend the night in a train station waiting room in 1940s India and start talking about the women they have loved in the past.
So the stories are all woven by a common thread, but are each man’s reflections. They are all set in the 1920s British India, and the women are all very much a product of their times. Some of the love stories are unrequited, but not all, which makes the variety unpredictable. The translation is absolutely sublime, I was particularly impressed as love stories can be harder than most to translate due to the nuances of emotion.
I would recommend this book. Its a brief read, and perfect for a solitary lockdown evening, when you might be tempted to watch something online. But I’d counsel this read instead, perhaps with a cup of something warm for company.
I was very fortunate to see Bill Bryson in person at a live interview about a year ago. Believe it or not, it was at a Microsoft conference! Anyway, it was his casual wit and his obvious intelligence that made me miss his Notes from a Small Island and I decided to pick up its sequel. That was about 5 months ago.
This book is about the more detailed journeys that Bryson undertakes, to the most quirky offbeat places on mainland Britain. Most of it is set in England (about 95%) which to me is a bit of a disappointment, because I’ve never lived in England and its quirks and cultural connotations are slightly lost on me. However, I could not help but snort on planes and trains as Bryson’s extremely sardonic style of writing struck again. His observations are hilarious, especially the one about the Microsoft Windows Updates (yes, he even writes about that sort of thing!) and the gag about the John Lewis shopping experience.
I would very much recommend this book in fits and bursts, it is not meant to be read in one sitting. Rather, if you have ever been to any of the places mentioned in the book, you must revisit them with book in hand! Now that would be a laugh. It was a bit monotonous in parts for me and I would have loved to read a bit more about Scotland in there too. But hey, for the most part, I enjoyed it.
It is very obvious why I picked this up, yes? Such a definitive play on Bill Bryson as well as having goats in the name. Seriously, this was begging to get picked up from the library. Especially as after my Spain trip, I was looking for some Spain themed books to read. Any good recommendations in that field?
I sort of enjoyed the book. It is quite humorous, but it was a bit repetitive. It follows the adventures of a young English woman who moved to live on the Spanish island of Mallorca. While the differences in culture and habits are brought out beautifully, the style of writing, I felt was a bit stilted. So the reaction from me would definitely be a bit mixed. The parallel plot lines are quite entertaining, from the Russian model to the crazy neighbour – they all bring their idiosyncracies into the story.
So would I read any of the author Anna Nicholas? Probably, yes. I would love to know more about her adventures and I am sure that I will find styles of er writing in other books that I like better.
I have reviewed a couple of books by Matt Freese previously. You can read my reviews here and here. The thing that has struck me every time is that although his books tend to be a collection of narratives rather than a single discourse, the topics are very different. In this latest work, Freese recalls the memories of two summers in the late 60s, when he spent time at Woodstock. I love the name of the book too, it means the pieces of stone whch make up a mosaic – it seemed to me the perfect name for a book of this kind.
The collection is part-memoir part-adventure-novel. By using his experiences on those two summers in particular, and interspersing the narrative with the past of the past and the future of the past, Freese has created a marvellous book. The thing that will stay with me, is how very intimate the book is. It is a deep-dive into the author’s innermost fears, dreams, insecurities. He talks of his first love, his wife, a failed marriage, and his intense but brief relationship with his daughter. He talks of these events as if talking to a friend, and it took a lot of stepping back on my part to not feel upset and embroiled in it all.
The only slight downside, for me, was that there are a few American references which were lost on me. I have never been to America, nor have I had close friends, so understandably, that is a want from my end. But those who have lived through the American 60s will definitely find events to relate to and empathise with. I really enjoyed reading it and will recommend it for sure.
It is available to buy from Wheatmark or Amazon.
My blog turns five today. Thank you, readers, for keeping the reading going 🙂
I love you all and am very grateful for your support.
A couple of months ago, I went to the Netherlands. It was my first trip to continental Europe and Amsterdam (and its surrounding towns) did not disappoint. As I tend to after lovely travels, I picked up this classic set in the 1840s Holland. If you have never been, if you have and want to revisit your memories, or if you just want to renew your faith in miracles, this should be your New Year read.
The Silver Skates is the story of Hans and Gretel Brinker and an annual tradition in Holland – ice-skating on the frozen canals that abound the country. The Brinker siblings are poor, with an ailing bedridden father and a mother who works to make ends meet. The Brinker children are good, honest, and hard-working. So good comes to them in the form of an expected present. Good skating shoes to participate in the race! The novel then leads up to the race itself. It follows the local children through the country as they train for the race, it follows the dynamics of a society when the rich and poor brush shoulders, and it takes the reader through the humble dynamics of every day family life in the Brinker household.
When Hans, like his sister, is given money to buy new skates, he decides to approach the famous Dr Boekman to treat his father. The gentleman doctor takes a liking towards him and agrees to take a look at Mr Brinker for free. The book then comes up to a tantalising climax of the treatment and the agonising wait to find out if the father will be alright. At the same time, Gretel is flying along frozen canals on the new skates and has the reader rooting for her victory.
The style of writing is very lucid, with Dutch history and folktales interwoven with the storyline. The narrative is fast paced at times and slows down in comfortable bits that takes the reader along the streets and towns of Holland. This book was a bestseller right away after publication and one can rightly see why. It has the excitement of travel, the redemption of problems and will leave you with a renewed outlook towards life and living.
Windmills at Zaanse-Saans
If you, like me, leave it till the very last minute to do cards, then this is for you… courtesy Grammarly