The Memory Keeper’s Daughter … a review

I had heard a lot about this book so when I chanced upon it, I picked it up. It was meant to be a travel read, and it is a good size and weight for that. So if you are going away on holiday this summer and want something interesting, I would recommend this book.

The plot hinges on Dr. David Henry, who lies to his wife and tell her that one of their twins, a daughter, was stillborn. In reality, she had Down’s and he gave her away to the nurse to put in a home. The nurse Caroline, couldn’t bear it however, and decides to raise the child herself. The plot is a bit too iffy. There are too many coincidences and the fact that Mrs Henry is totally obsessed in her grief but manages to mother her son and have a life anyway (however grudgingly) is a bit strange. She also questions her husband surprisingly less in the initial year after her daughter’s death, even though she cannot get past it.

But, but, once you get past all that, and assume the plot is a given, the portrayal of the fragility of relationships is actually brilliant. The slow decay of the Henry marriage, the dysfunctional family unit for Paul – the surviving child, the evolving relationship of Mrs Henry and her sister, the secret between Caroline and Dr Henry, and the struggles of Caroline with her ‘dauhter’ Phoebe are all excellently handled. Life can sometimes be stranger than fiction and the various people in their individual journeys are well-bound by this strange secret – a disabled child.

The treatment of peoples’ past as well is nicely written and you can see how each character’s past shapes their thoughts and behaviour. This is generally always true for good books, but this one is particular was standout. Down’s children as well are very precocious  in some ways and through Phoebe, those sentiments are nicelyconveyed. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I can see why there was a hype about it.

Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home … a review

I’ve taken a long time to write this one up. But it is a book of poems, so my excuse is that I read it in fits and bursts, on my commute as well as in bed, savouring it slowly. When Dane Cobain, the poet, asked me to review it, I expected something, I don’t know what the word for it is, traditional. But this book has been a pleasant surprise on that front. Allow me to elaborate by using some examples.

There’s no such thing as a gentleman

anymore;

just men and women

stumbling through life

in the same way they always have.

Welcome to society,

our capitalistic, gender-neutral

society;

we are all equal

in our misery.

I thought these lines were beautiful, but sad, accepting, but rebellious. It is the harsh reality of our times, put quite in a brutally honest way. I haven’t read something like this for a while. Read this

Then the web hit its terrible teens

and we signed up en masse

to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,

Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat

and WhatsApp,

and now our fragmented entities

are just stressful lives

lived out in public;

mass hallucinations and delirium

pulling us together and

pushing us apart.

Another set of lines that struck a chord for me. But it is not just the online world that Cobain rips apart. It is everything from religion to region, with a good measure of myth and mystery. Some of it is also very personal, very intimate, like having a drink with the poet and the things he might let spill over it.

I’ll leave you with a small set of lines which could be quite controversial, but are especially relevant with so many upcoming referendums and elections.

If Britain

is only for the British,

then I’m no longer

British.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have a soft corner for poetry and Cobain weaves his frustrations with the modern world deftly into stanzas which come across as masterfully crafted.

 

A Thousand Acres … a review

I read this book by Jane Smiley for three reasons. It came recommended by my friend Liz, who knows my style well. I also had to read something for the April Motif Challenge, which was Read a book that has won recognition or a literary award’, which this book has. It won the 1992 Putlizer. And the final reason was that I hadn’t read anything set in America for a while. And I was thoroughly impressed!

This books spans the lives of three sisters of the Cook family. Their father, Larry Cook, is an ageing farmer who decides to incorporate his farm, handing complete and joint ownership to his three daughters, Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. When the youngest daughter objects, she is removed from the agreement. I loved this part of the novel, where this event sets off a chain of long lost dark truths and forgotten lies. As a family, their true dysfunctionality comes to light. There is some very dark bits to be unearthed as well, which I wont speak of here because that would spoil it for you if you wanted to read it. There is also a subplot around the eldest daughter Ginny and her troubled marriage and difficulties in bearing a child.

What I was interested to know was that this is a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Now, to be honest, I think I read that play over ten years ago and I cannot remember anything. But this book has meant that I will have to go an reread that again, now. So while I go and do that, you be sure to pick this one up.

Intimacy … a review

It is the saddest night, for I am leaving and not coming back. Tomorrow morning, when the woman I have lived with for six years has gone to work on her bicycle, and our children have been taken to the park with their ball, I will pack some things into a suitcase, slip out of my house hoping that no one will see me, and take the tube to Victor’s place.

In the first two sentences, Hanif Kureishi establishes everything about the novella. A man is walking out of his marriage. They have children. His wife does not know. He is sneaking away. Their lives have been hitherto ‘normal’. He has no concrete plans upon leaving. There is a sense of tremendous loss and melancholy. This sets the vein for everything that follows. Kureishi is a tremendous writer.

I picked this book up at the library because the first two sentences form the blurb of the book and I was instantly hooked. I was not disappointed. It read a lot like Anne Enright but only much, much better. The entire book only spans a day and a half, but speaks of a lifetime of memeories, life, laughter, and pain.

I loved how each thought in the protagonist’s head spins off into some sort of memeory. It is not exactly ‘stream of consciousness’ though. Just a beautiful series of images that take a reader through his past and made me think that life is so strange that if you think from the point of view of the wife, she actually has no idea at all. And this immense sense of loss is so deep. The characters are all suitably flawed as well, and the author does a good job of laying their insecurities and inadequacies bare.

This is not a very long read, took me two or three hours at best.So it s a good read for a short travel. But it does leave you with a sense of displacement and sadness so I would account for that and not read it if you’re going to a party or something!!

The Girl in the Spider’s Web … a review

I enjoyed the Millenium series immensely. I read them in the summer of 2011 and all I remember of that summer is the entirety of those books and reading them at various places battling the Delhi heat. So when I heard that there was going to be a fourth book, I was surprised that it had almost next to none publicity. I mean, when Mockingbird‘s sequel released in July, the world practically drove themselves into a frenzy!

Anyway, the original author is dead, so this is controversially written by David Lagercrantz,who has continued on from where Larsson left off. I will not tell you about the controversy here because you can Google it. What I will tell you is that the way he has done it is impressive. The book is very well written and reads seamlessly like the previous ones (although I am mindful that I have read them all in translation).

Lizbeth, one of the most striking and unforgettable characters in modern fiction is portrayed with class and finesse, something that readers have admired bout her. Our journalist Blomkvist and his business partner Berger are just the same, like old friends to the reader. And the plot too, is well thought out and well researched. As usual, Nordic noir is set in the backdrop of a cold frigid winter and that always heightens the excitement. But the action spans across various locations and the inclusion of a child with special needs just ties up everything brilliantly.

What I will say is though that the pace seemed a little slow as compared to the previous books. Those ones were thicker and more complex plot-wise. But I suppose that is where the difference of the actual author comes out. For what it’s worth, Lagercrantz has done a fine job and I really hope that he continues to rite more novels with the same beloved characters. Especially if Craig and Mara are around to act in the movies!

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.