Saturday, September 28, 2013

What else is new?

Drumroll please!

Because the Man Booker has now been officially opened to writers of EVERY nationality.
That's pretty amazing news right?

Read the Man Booker Committee's official press release here

I was wondering if this would mean the end of the Man Booker International Prize which is open to writers from all nationalities but picks a winner based on their achievements over a lifetime instead of one specific book but apparently NOT.

So now the cause for concern is whether American authors (too many of them and too many of them write pretty damned well) will dominate the shortlists and longlists.
Which undoubtedly they will but this may make the prize winning book more worthy since the competition is surely going to intensify now.

Man Booker Committee's decision comes on the heels of the announcement of the Folio prize which is going to start handing out prizes from 2014. It is the first English-language prize open to writers from around the world.
I guess the Booker committee, feared that they were going to become less relevant now.

In other important news, Goodreads has announced a draconian new review policy which allows its administrators/moderators to delete reviews and shelves describing author behavior. As in, calling the author a jerk or an asshole would lead to your review getting deleted. You can discuss the author in your review but only in context of the subject matter of the book.

Meaning you cannot write a review of a David Gilmour book where you call him a misogynist or an ignorant idiot (which he totally is since apparently he thinks Virginia Woolf is the only woman writer worth reading or teaching). Or you cannot call Scott Orson Card a homophobe and a racist.
It is okay to recommend books to others on Goodreads, but not okay to ask people not to buy an author's book or read it because of their bigoted, racist, misogynistic, sexist, offensive remarks or actions in real life.

Not only is this policy shady and geared towards integrating Goodreads with Amazon and boosting sales of contemporary titles (particularly by young adult, new adult and other 'best-selling' writers), it also infringes on reviewers' freedom of speech.
No doubt a storm is in the making over at Goodreads with many people migrating to sites like Booklikes and voicing their protest by directly writing reviews, naming shelves in violation of the new rules, letting their discontent known in the Goodreads Feedback group.

But I have a feeling everything is falling on deaf ears.

I haven't made a Booklikes account yet (Scarlet has though), since what is the guarantee that once Booklikes is a regular, healthy and active community Amazon won't purchase it too?
I think I am going to stick to my blog if Goodreads continues to enforce more unjust rules and regulations.

The Nobel Prize for Literature announcement for 2013 is also just around the corner. Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, South Korean poet Ko Un and the one and only Haruki Murakami are among the more prominent names doing the rounds as likely winners. I wonder if Philip Roth is still in the running, since last year his name was very visible. This year, however, not so much.

I'll keep my fingers crossed for Murakami this year but I have no hope (given his name has been circulating for the past 10 years and the Nobel Committee are unlikely to hand the prize to two Asian writers in two consecutive years). A woman winning the prize will be awesome too given how terribly few women writers have won the prize over the years.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

(Originally reviewed on Aug 29, 2013 at Goodreads)

Night Film
opens with one hell of a prologue - easily the best I have ever come across. Those opening pages exude such authentic creepiness that it becomes impossible to not keep turning the pages, to not want to know more about the enigma of the reclusive legendary Hollywood director, Stanislas Cordova. This, I believe, is Pessl's greatest achievement here. With multimedia inclusions and some tight writing, she manages to do in a handful of pages what so many authors spend entire books trying; she manages to intrigue the reader, to lure him in, to make him take the bait.

I blew through this not-so-slight book in less than 3 days. That should give you an idea of the reading frenzy I was in.

So why the low rating??

Because once the frenzy ended and I put the book down, I realized I wasn't wowed by the actual plot or blown away by that ending and all it did or didn't imply.

The only feeling I was left with was an intense desire to watch a Cordova movie.

So the book certainly didn't fail. I wasn't bored or unaffected but the effect it did have was not really the kind Pessl intended, which is why I can't say it succeeded either.

Night Film follows a disgraced investigative reporter, Scott McGrath, as he digs into the mystery surrounding Ashley Cordova's suicide. Ashley, daughter of horror-film director Stanislas Cordova and a former piano prodigy, jumps to her death in downtown New York. Scott (who is such an unremarkable character that I'm struggling to find words to describe him) teams up with two twenty-something sidekicks (who are equally unremarkable and on top of that, annoying) as he runs around chasing clues, trying to hunt the truth that shifts and eludes like the patterns in a kaleidoscope.

The plot is one long treasure hunt centered around Cordova and while the chase is thrilling, I couldn't care less about the people I was forced to team up with. Every time Scott and his sidekicks took a break to ponder over their personal dilemmas, I would start to skim till the words 'Ashley' or 'Cordova' popped up again.

Night Film is not the kind of book that gives you the correct answer. What it gives you instead are multiple answers to the same question and leaves you to speculate which one is correct, if there even is such a thing as correct. If truth is a notion, how can anything be true? While the idea is great in theory, it did not hit me like I wanted it to. My reaction at the end was, "Who cares what the answer is when it doesn't change anything?" but I guess that has more to do with the kind of person I am. Maybe I'm someone who cares more about the effects and not the causes.

The writing is... good. If you ignore the inconsistency and the overuse of unnecessary italics, that is. There were some great parts writing-wise but no line or quote stood out enough to stay with me.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend Night Film. It did not blow me away but it was gripping enough to make me sacrifice sleep. This book is an experience and while the impact may differ from person to person, I think it is an experience worth having.

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review : A Schoolboy's Diary and Other Stories by Robert Walser

Faced with the prospect of reviewing a collection of short stories, which is probably my least favorite writing chore ever, I am choosing the easy way out. I am so taken with the quiet, restrained beauty of Walser's writing that I am most unwilling to disassemble his short stories into separate assessing criteria like style, essence, prose, plot, imagery and so on.

So what I'll do is convince you, dear random uninitiated reader, to pick up this little gem, flip through its pages and discover for yourself the treasures embedded within without trying your patience by going into excruciating details. And by letting Walser speak on my behalf.

The initial few short stories are written from the point of view of a school boy in the format of essays on various topics ranging from school, poverty, careers to friendship, politeness, nature and so on.
It is astonishing to note that despite the glaringly trite nature of these subjects, Walser manages to bring something new to the stories by adding a distinct touch of his own. His tone fluctuates between mildly sardonic and wistful to complacent and observant but unassuming.

Sample what he has to say about "school" -

"School is the unavoidable choker around the neck of youth, and I confess that it is a valuable piece of jewelery indeed. What a burden we would be to our parents, workers, passersby, shop owners, if we didn't have to go to school!"

And this is what he says about 'Politeness'-

"The more big and important a polite person is, the more benevolence his civility has."

His thoughts on anger and conflict -

"Not only boys can bear grudges against other boys in such a way, so too just as well can grownups against grownups, mature adults against mature adults, and I would venture to say, nations against nations. A vengeance or revenge can collect in the heart of a nation due to self-regard that has been injured in various ways, and it grows and grows, without end, becomes more and more pressing, more and more painful rises up like a high mountain no longer to be cleared away, obstructs any mutual understanding, inhibits warm, healthy, reasonable reciprocal communication, turns into twitching nervous fury, and is so tyrannical and degrading that it can one day no longer be reined in and cries out wildly for bloody conflict."

There are references to nature, changing seasons and vivid descriptions of lush, green landscapes in the Swiss countryside aplenty.

"Autumn was beautiful, with its brownish melancholy that seemed attractive and happily right to me, while in May the blossoming trees and all the singing and wonderful smells plunged into sadness."

The short stories included in the latter half of the book seem to be written from different perspectives like that modest young men about to enlist in the army or confused, lost writers trying to seek validation in a life fraught with failures and rejections. (This is vaguely autobiographical I believe.)

"Restlessness, uncertainty, and a premonition of a singular fate may have been what led me, in my sequestered isolation, to pick up my quill and attempt to create a reflection of myself."

Here are a few of his excellent ruminations on reading -

"A book bewitches and dominates us, it holds us spellbound, in other words it exerts a power over us, and we are happy to let such tyranny occur, for it is a blessing. Anyone captivated and gripped by a book for a given time does not use that time to initiate gossip about his dear fellow man, which is always a great and crude mistake."
And ahem, book snobs please do take note of this -

"I have sometimes heard people talk about so-called harmful reading, e.g., infamous Gothic novels. That's another story we shall avoid getting into but we can say this much: the worst book in the world is not as bad as the complete indifference of never picking up a book at all. A trashy book is not nearly as dangerous as people sometimes think, and the so-called really good books are under certain conditions by no means as free of danger as people generally like to believe. Intellectual things are never as harmless as eating chocolate or enjoying an apple tart or the like. In principle, the reader just has to know how to cleanly separate reading from life."

Walser's short sentences gave me the impression of beads of morning dew collecting on blades of grass, the evanescent beauty of which evaporates away before we even have time enough to bask in its resplendence. But for as long as the novelty lasts, it is the most exquisite thing in the world. He is not overly pedantic yet his writing exudes immense charm and clarity.

"But soon enough he was cheerful again. Love of humanity and the sorrows thereof, a lust for life and the pain therefrom, rose exquisitely up like tall ghostly shapes in the pale, golden air of the summer evening. Softly the figures seemed to wave to him."

To conclude, this is a thoroughly delightful collection but I'll hold out on that 5-star rating until I read a full-fledged novel of his.

4 out of 5 stars (more of a 4.5)

**special thanks to Netgalley for a copy of the e-edition**

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Published August 13th 2013 by Delacorte Press

(Original review posted on Goodreads: Aug 12, 2013)

Though structured and paced like a thriller, what this book really is, is a finely sketched portrait of pain. And I don't mean the passive kind, where you feel for characters because they have tragic back-stories. No, this pain is personal; it's deeper, more penetrating and quietly horrifying. When the finale played out, I swear my heart skipped a beat because I was so shocked, and then it just broke.

The Boy Who Could See Demons was a book I requested on a whim. I had no major expectations going in, which is probably why I'm so impressed with it. It's gratifying to read something totally un-hyped and then get to say "Wow, that was good!" And this was really good. Not the best psychological thriller I've ever read but very gripping and memorable. It kept me guessing throughout and just when I thought I knew the answers, I realized I was asking the wrong questions.

The narration alternates between Anya, the psychiatrist, and Alex, the patient, who claims his best friend Ruen is a demon only he can see. The strength of this book lies in the characterization. Not only are Alex and Anya's individual voices very genuine and well-done, even the secondary characters like Alex's depressed mom Cindy, his social worker Michael, and even his demon friend Ruen, are finely etched. This is a very easy book to read because the writing is straightforward and simple, maybe a little too simple at times.

There is a big twist at the end. I did not see it coming but what's really amazing is how, looking back, I cannot imagine it playing out any other way.

The Boy Who Could See Demons is a dark, disturbing exploration of a traumatized human mind. It's disconcerting to think that something associated with rational thought and reason can make you see and believe in things that defy logic. Echoing the lines Anya comes across in Milton's Paradise Lost:

"The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n."

So true.

3.5 rounded off to 4

**I recieved an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sarah Dessen and More

Caution:- The following is essentially a review of Dessen's latest book 'The Moon and More', but written in a pretty non-conventional way. So prepare to feel a little exasperated if you were only looking for a plot summary, overview and general deconstruction.

In a parallel universe Sarah Dessen and I may have been intimate friends. But thanks to reality playing spoil sport and imposing barriers of physical distance, cultural and age differences, I can only ever dream of being on first name basis with her.

I discovered Dessen's books during a formative period in my life, in those much feared years when we are transitioning into adulthood from our hapless teens, and held onto her stories for dear life, every time I had to get over a period of depression (possibly induced by a break down of relations with a friend or someone more than a friend) or whenever serious literature lost its appeal in my eyes. Perhaps, this is the point where you start scoffing at YA, lose interest in this review and proceed to ask -

"How much of an insight into real life problems can a mere YA writer provide us with?"

My answer is, you'll be surprised to know.

Prior to my fortunate discovery of Dessen's works, I had a very skewed view of American teens, believing them to be animals prowling the jungle called high school, all replicas of stereotypical characters (the jock-bullies, hot blonde cheerleaders, shy, geeky brunettes, bespectacled nerds who often have their heads flushed down toilets, Goths, social rejects and so on and so forth) shown in mediocre tv shows.

So it will be an understatement to say that Sarah Dessen made me heave a sigh of relief. For the first time ever, I realized all American teens may not be the violent brutes or weirdos I had naively assumed them to be, that they may not be that much apart from their Indian/Asian counterparts, and maybe just as humane and flawed as we are. They have their own moments of mute desperation, struggle to come to terms changes about to materialize and more importantly their relationships with their parents are not close to nonexistent. (contrary to beliefs held by a wide majority of Indians). In other words, Dessen's books throw light on real issues plaguing teens - drug addiction, sexual awakening, destitution, homelessness, unplanned pregnancy, irresponsible/abusive parents.

Her protagonists are adolescent young girls, usually hailing from broken families (raised by divorced/estranged/single parents) who navigate the many challenges life brings them face to face with as they attempt to transition into responsible adulthood. They are soft-spoken, do not throw unnecessary tantrums but go about their business exuding a quiet confidence, deal maturely with first stirrings of romantic attraction instead of melting into gooey puddles, learn a few life lessons all within the scope of a few hundred pages.

Dessen manages to make the story of their lives come alive. As if this was happening somewhere in time, in some other part of the world completely alien to my Indian self. And I was being given a privileged peek into the unfolding of a series of events neither too dramatic nor tinged with a touch of unreality.
There's no dramatic reunion between emotionally absent father and estranged daughter, there's no hot sexual tension existing between the romantic leads, there's no promise of a forever after. There are no violent arguments between disagreeing parents and rebellious kids either.

Dessen understands well that life is a bundle of imperfections. So instead of giving us a too-good-to-be-true antidote to all problems, a neat tying up of all loose ends, she gives us hope.
Hope for a future where the possibility of that neat tying up of all loose ends remains alive.

Her style is minimalistic. She never pretends that she is writing anything but YA or does not give into the temptation of showcasing her command over words or sentence construction, unlike a certain John Green who often goes overboard in his enthusiasm to create a line of distinction between other YA writers and himself. She only tells a story in her own simple, elegant yet understated manner, expecting us to read, enjoy and understand.

But I guess I have outgrown that period of attachment with Dessen's headstrong but dignified young adult heroines. I can no longer devour her stories with a kind of pleasant smile playing about my lips or shed tears as easily as I used to.

Even though I liked Emaline's tale of coming of age or the way she learnt how to hold on to her past while embracing a future, I did not retain anything from the story as soon as Emaline's last summer of high school life ended. I guess I am no longer the confused, disoriented girl struggling to find her place in life like most of her protagonists. And I am no longer as young as I used to be.

(A 3.5 stars to The Moon and More.)

But even so, Sarah Dessen and I go way back. She has been my companion since when I had willfully shunned the company of people I knew in real life. And I still can't seem to resist the urge to squeal like a little girl every time she responds to my tweet. So if she writes another book, I'll most certainly read it if not for anything else then for old times' sake. And who knows? Maybe I'll enjoy it too.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: The Memory of Trees by F. G. Cottam

Expected publication: October 1 2013 by Severn House Publishers

I'd never heard of F. G. Cottam when I stumbled upon this book on NetGalley. My decision to hit request was driven by an intense case of cover-cum-title love, and the fact that this was due for release on my birthday (yes, I can be shallow like that sometimes). But if all his books are this wonderfully creepy, then I sure have a lot of reading to do in the near future.

The Memory of Trees is an immaculately crafted piece of horror driven by the age-old formula of dread. It's the kind of book that makes you intensely uneasy for no clear reason and then takes advantage by amplifying that anxiety with every other chapter, like that feeling you sometimes get of being watched but when you turn there's no one there. The build-up is so intense that even though you have no idea where it's going, you dread reaching there anyway.

Billionaire Saul Abercrombie hires Tom Curtis a.k.a the "Tree Man" to restore his vast sea-side estate to it's ancient verdant glory. But the land harbors dark secrets, hidden in myths and Arthurian legends, and it may be too late before Curtis realizes that some forests aren't supposed to exist.

The best, or in this case, creepiest aspect of the book is the setting. There is something very wrong about Abercrombie's land and Cottam captures that vile atmosphere brilliantly. The ancient desolate church with it's single large montage depicting a legendary hero, the cairn of stones where the wind shrieks and whistles as it passes, the undiscovered cave that folklore claims is the abode of ancient monsters, and most of all, the thorn bush, oh Lord, THAT THORN BUSH - I'm expecting them all to feature in my nightmares.

Cottam's writing is fantastic. It's lush and descriptive with minimum dialogue.

"There was something unlovely about the acreage Abercrombie owned, a baleful quality beyond its vastness. It was a place where things seemed to lurk and hide and to have qualities other than those they ought rightfully to possess."

Just what I was saying earlier but in Cottam's lovely words.

Things don't start happening right away, of course. There are many characters and back-stories to get through in the first few chapters so I can't guarantee you'll be hooked from page 1 even though I was. I never felt bored, I never felt the mood or pace falter. This book definitely has five-star potential and I'm only holding out on the rating because this is my first (and surely not last) Cottam book.

The Memory of Trees is the creepiest book I've read this year. I'm not a girl who's easy to scare but I would be lying if I said I didn't have goosebumps on my arms at a certain point while reading. I live on the fourth floor and there are many trees around my apartment. No willows or yews, thank God, but there are some palm trees that are waving their feathery fingers at me right now and creeping me out.

Just for tonight, I'll sleep with the window shut tight and the curtains drawn.

4.5 stars rounded down to 4

**I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review : Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

(There's no point in my reviewing Jane Eyre the conventional way, because most of you who read have read this already. So what follows is the rough equivalent of a tribute to this great work of literature.)

What do I write about you Jane? Words fall short when I try to.

Jane, you are so much a part of me as I am yours.
You are so much a part of women who lived in obscurity centuries before Bronte breathed life into you.
You are so much a part of women who are alive at present and so much a part of women yet to be born.
You are so much a collective chorus of voices than just a single one.
You are so much an inexorable force which builds up in intensity over the course of the narrative.
You are so much an embodiment of the feminine spirit and not just an ordinary looking, puny little girl of barely twenty with pompous world views and ideals.

Jane, you are not only the essence of womanhood at its best but the finest specimen of humanity - so refined, so just, so fragile yet so iron-solid. So full of scorn yet so humble.
Jane, you transcend the boundaries of an era so effortlessly and retain your relevance even today.
I don't give any guarantees that reading Jane Eyre (that is if you are still uninitiated) will cure you of misogyny. I do not believe in utopian concepts such as chauvinistic men suddenly giving up on their own delusional views on women and starting to treat them with respect deserving of a human, after reading a book. But it may come very close to achieving that purpose.
Then again, I do not expect a well-read man to be a misogynist in the first place.

Charlotte Bronte has accorded this immortal literary character with such a voice, such a dignity of bearing, such a sharpness of intellect, such a power of conviction - that absolutely no one can remain unaffected after reading this. Once you get to make the acquaintance of courageous, zealous, outspoken, energetic, intelligent, principled, respectable Jane, you are bound to remember her forever. Rather, Jane will ensure that you do not forget.

If you are a woman of integrity, you may see a part of yourself reflected in her sarcastic comebacks, in her sense of humor, in her feelings of rage, in her unapologetic frankness and in her cold refusal to bow down to the wishes of those more powerful than her in terms of wealth or social recognition.

Before the term 'feminism' had even come into being, Charlotte Bronte was busy creating an everlasting symbol of feminine power that will withstand the test of time with incredible ease and continue to cast its influence on society and literature.

Sure Jane Eyre has a romance at its heart - a memorable one at that. Sure it also contains a gothic mystery. But these are not its only highlights.

Jane Eyre is a feminist doctrine in the garb of a novel. Jane Eyre fearlessly reproves the injustices of class divisions. Jane Eyre contains a subtle indictment of blind religious zealotry and upholds the value of man over God. Jane Eyre lays bare the perversities in self-important men of religion. Jane Eyre criticizes a prejudiced Victorian society and exposes the hollowness of the lives of its affluent but ignorant gentry.
And to think Charlotte Bronte wrote this in the middle of the 19th century.

The last time I had been this strongly affected by a classic was about 10 years ago, when I had read A Tale of Two Cities for the first time.
This is the kind of book whose greatness you cannot try and measure by awarding it a number of stars or even by reviewing it.  This is not just one of the finest literary masterpieces ever written but forms a very important part of the reason why we read, why we prefer to shun the company of people and seek a few precious hours of togetherness with fiction or literature, instead.

Dear Ms Bronte, I am late to the party but I have arrived nonetheless. And I cannot thank you enough for bringing me, for bringing 'us' alive in your powerful words. The world and I owe you a debt we can never repay.
Oh thank you so very much!

P.S.:- This review is glaring in its obvious exclusion of Edward Fairfax Rochester, but that is not for any shortcoming on Mr Rochester's part. Rochester is without a doubt one of the most realistic and interesting literary romantic interests ever created. But I wanted this to be about Jane and only her. Because had Bronte's intention been to bestow equal importance on Jane and Rochester, she would have named this 'Jane and Edward' or something along those lines.

5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Short Review: The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

(Original Review posted on Goodreads: July 9, 2013)

"All monsters are scared.
That's why they're monsters."

48 hours ago, when I read the last page for the first time, I had this strange, sad feeling. Like I had come to the end of something beautiful without really comprehending the beauty of it until the last minute.

Which is why it took me a re-read to realize how brilliant this book is.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is childhood in 181 pages.

Short. Sweet. Magical. Scary. Real.

There is a reason this book is labelled as "adult" and it has nothing to do with sexual content or violence or gore. To be an adult by age is meaningless because, to truly appreciate this book, you must be an adult by experience. You must be adult enough to miss childhood.

Me, I'm not there yet. I don't miss being a child because I remember being a child. I can still see it when I turn back.

So right now, no. This is not my favorite Gaiman book.
But in 20-odd years, it probably will be.

Because The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of those books.
It can only grow in appeal the older you get.

"And did I pass?"
The face of the old woman on my right was unreadable in the gathering dusk.
On my left the younger woman said,
"You don't pass or fail at being a person, dear."

4 out of 5 stars

Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

(Original review posted on Goodreads : June 27, 2013)

The first few chapters of The Storyteller introduce us to Sage Singer - a twenty-something baker who is struggling with scars both emotional and physical. Following an accident that maimed half her face, Sage suffers from very low self-esteem, lives and works like a recluse and settles for being some guy's mistress.

Had I not read the blurb, I would have assumed that I was reading one of those chick-lit stories where an insecure girl with too much emotional baggage meets a guy who loves her for who she is.

400 pages later, that is EXACTLY what The Storyteller turned out to be.

What a bummer.

I'm not saying that The Storyteller doesn't talk about the Holocaust or doesn't do justice to it. In fact, the best parts are the flash-backs from WW2. I'll give credit where it's deserved - Jodi Picoult has researched the whole thing extremely well. And yet, the Holocaust angle always felt secondary to me. It did not get the attention it deserved. Or rather, undue attention was given to trivial plot-points.

Take the baking, for example. There is a ton of absolutely pointless information. What Sage bakes. Why she bakes. How she bakes. How gluten works. How brioche is made. Yadda yadda yadda.

Another useless detail that is hard to ignore - Sage's sisters are called Pepper and Saffron.
There's nothing technically wrong with those names except that they serve no purpose in the book whatsoever and stick out like a sore thumb.

All the side-characters were unrealistic and absolutely weird, again, for no reason other than grabbing undue attention. Who the hell speaks only in Haiku?? What kind of nun (or ex-nun) paints Jesus with the face of Bradley Cooper?? What is this, some Sophie Kinsella novel??

All that time Picoult wasted on meaningless digressions could have been better spent in developing Josef and Sage's friendship, which felt rather sudden and underwhelming to me.

There's another story about a vampire (No, I'm not joking.) that is narrated in parallel. It has allegorical meaning in the context of the book. I wish this story was kept separate, maybe like a prologue/epilogue to each part. It's jarring to go from SS officer in one chapter to blood-thirsty vampire in the next.

Now, the good part. Minka's harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust is without question, the highlight of The Storyteller. The meticulously detailed descriptions make it nearly unbearable to read, but those 150 odd pages tell a supremely compelling story. For that one section, I'd say Brava, Ms Picoult.

Sadly, even Minka's story cannot save The Storyteller from my 2-star shelf. What should have been about Josef and Minka focused too much on Sage and Leo.

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 8, 2013

3 short reviews

A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro's A Pale View of the Hills, despite being his debut, is no less an emotional tale than
his other better known works. It is a delicately woven tapestry of several themes, stitched together by the gift of Ishiguro's masterful but tender story-telling.
Through the eyes of Etsuko, we see a war-ravaged Japan trying to rise from its ashes - torn between the difficult choice of shunning past ideologies which lured it down the path of devastation or holding on to the frail sentimentality of traditions. The narrative switches back and forth between Etsuko's present where she is merely drifting through life in England with a daughter she barely knows and her memories of one particular summer in Japan when she came across a dysfuctional mother-daughter duo. We see women in a changing society who slowly begin to assert themselves, while a passive and pregnant Etsuko merely observes. It's almost as if Etsuko's life itself is an allegory of her homeland during turbulent times, about to undergo a major paradigm shift.
A story of loss, pain, self assertion and the aftermath of war.

4 stars out of 5.

An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe

Presently, An Image of Africa has 49 ratings and 3 reviews (including mine) on Goodreads.
While Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, a compilation of essays by Achebe which contains this famous piece along with a few others, has 109 ratings and 8 reviews.

Which means this particular essay is as unknown and ignored as Heart of Darkness is universally read and worshipped.
This does not however indicate that Achebe has been given the cold shoulder by Goodreaders. (Oh no not at all, he is very popular instead.) 
Merely this that, either most people on Goodreads are not too intent on reading essays or not specifically interested in an African writer's denouncement of a most revered piece of literature written by a European. 
Even a Google search wasn't able to cough up links to coherent reviews of Achebe's essay than a meagre 2 or 3, one of which was posted on a UK based website, which understandably enough, shot down all of Achebe's claims in the same way as the rest of the world may dismiss a threat of nuclear war made by North Korea. 

Sharp, precise, thorough and keen in its deconstruction of Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a piece of mainstream literature fraught with racist implications, An Image of Africa does not only seek to label Conrad as a 'bloody racist' as the description says. (for your information, reader, he uses the word 'thoroughgoing' instead of 'bloody')
Achebe also brings to our notice, the often overlooked aspects of this literary fiction that is read by millions and taught as coursework for literature students worldwide, especially in American universities. Among the numerous critiques of Heart of Darkness, not one exists which points out Conrad's blatant dehumanization of the inhabitants of Africa as a manifestation of an obstinate white sense of superiority. 
Which is why Achebe took it upon himself to write one. 

"A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz.

Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art."

I think I ended up highlighting so much while reading that it would have sufficed to just highlight the entire printed text or leave it alone and consider the whole thing highlighted, anyway. 
Achebe's line of reasoning and thought is impossible to slight and makes one see Conrad's much vaunted literary masterpiece in a new light altogether.
But another reading of Heart of Darkness is needed before I can extol the infallibility of Achebe's arguments with more conviction.

4 stars out of 5.

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham

In a nutshell, this contains Maugham's indictment of the culture of materialism, upper class
snobbery and the story of a man's spiritual awakening and search for the true meaning of life. He has analyzed the opposite ends of the spectrum of human existence and juxtaposed themes of kindness and human goodwill along with the basest of human feelings such as contempt and jealousy in a way truly characteristic of a master of the art. But some portions were unnecessarily drawn out. And I felt Maugham's deliberate reveal of himself as a character in the story and as the narrator, didn't add anything to the narrative and instead mellowed down its intensity to a certain extent.

3.5 stars out of 5. 

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review : World War Z by Max Brooks

Full title:- World War Z : An Oral History of the Zombie War  (yeah too long to write the whole thing on top at once)

(Originally review posted on Goodreads:- May 5, 2013)

Initially I had thought World War Z was going to be a book I would be surreptitiously adding to
my 'read' list on Goodreads, rating it and moving on to better reads quite unceremoniously.
I had considered not even the remotest possibility of reviewing it, because I assumed this was going to be one of those books one reads for sheer entertainment value and little else. 
But here I am writing one anyway, because I think the author definitely deserves some praise for his powers of imagination, if not for the copious amount of research he must have put in to write this.

If you are looking for your regular dosage of blood, guts and gore or a deliciously disturbing montage of decapitated torsos and severed limbs, I suggest you look elsewhere. Because World War Z is different from your mainstream zombie book.
Sure it contains the appropriate number of grotesque scenarios and morbid imagery, but these are not its highlights.
Here the zombie apocalypse serves merely as a backdrop against which the fragility of the world order is exposed - how an unforeseen human crisis of unimaginably catastrophic proportions can make the painstakingly put-together fabric of our civilization crumble like a house of cards.
Instead of recounting the story of the survival of one particular group of humans, making their way from one safe haven to another, Max Brooks gives us the bird's eye view of the nature of the calamity. 
The story of the human resistance against zombies unfolds from the perspective of not one but numerous survivors all over the world - military and navy men/women, war strategists, politicians, fraudulent businessmen, doctors, film directors, divers, ordinary civilians and so on. But the multiple points of view are compiled together in a single document, by an unnamed UN official to help create a clearer picture of the extent of the tragedy after the war has ended.
So what one finds in this book are minutiae regarding military equipment, weapons specially designed to fight off the living dead, strategies for quarantine and annihilation of infected people, psychological after-effects of surviving the disaster and living through it. Which makes it a lot more interesting and unconventional since the focus is shifted from the mindless violence perpetrated by a bunch of reanimated corpses and placed on human strengths and fallacies, instead. 

So then why did it leave me underwhelmed? 
Because the different accounts start to sound repetitive and the novelty of the mode of narration wears off after you get past the halfway mark. The frequency with which the author bombards the reader with descriptions of tactics employed by military and navy men tires one out after a while. And often, he goes overboard while trying to display his ample knowledge of the socio-political landscape of various nations. The way the book feels like a piece of non-fiction rather than a fictionalized account, also curtails one's enjoyment of the story somewhat.
I would have rated this 4 stars had the book helped me maintain the same level of interest throughout. 
That, however, does not mean it is unreadable. 
If you love your zombies yet cannot put up with mediocre writing and respect an author who cares to thoroughly research the topics he wishes to write on, World War Z is your next prospective read.

3 stars out of 5.

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Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

(Original review posted on Goodreads: May 31, 2013)

Here's something you should know about Khaled Hosseini: All his stories have more or less, the same ingredients.

It always starts with Afghanistan in its pre-war days. The protagonists are children, guileless and innocent. Then the invasion happens. People separate, the bonds between them torn apart either by fate or by design. Many gut-wrenching chapters later, there's some kind of reunion but with a catch - there's something amiss, something unfulfilled, like a testimony to the unfairness of life.

To be honest, I'm not a fan of formulaic things. Yet, when it's Hosseini telling a story, I listen. I give in. I let his words curl around me like a blanket. I fall in love. And when it's all over, I clutch the book to my chest and weep like a child.

Because formula or no formula, Khaled Hosseini just knows how to tell a story. He knows what to say and how to say it. It's like an art he has mastered - and no matter how many times he does it, the impact of it never fades.

And the Mountains Echoed is an ode to siblinghood and all the joys and heartbreaks that come with it - the anguish of separation, the guilt of envy, the comfort of companionship, the burden of responsibility. Unlike his previous books, Hosseini adopts a short-story approach for this one. There are multiple narratives in multiple time-frames spread across several different countries, all connected by a common link to Afghanistan.

The writing is beautiful, as always. Sample this:

"All my life, I have lived like an aquarium fish in the safety of a glass tank, behind a barrier as impenetrable as it has been transparent. I have been free to observe the glimmering world on the other side, to picture myself in it, if I like. But I have always been contained, hemmed in, by the hard, unyielding confines of the existence that Baba has constructed for me, at first knowingly, when I was young, and now guilelessly, now that he is fading day by day. I think I have grown accustomed to the glass and am terrified that when it breaks, when I am alone, I will spill out into the wide open unknown and flop around, helpless, lost, gasping for breath."

And the Mountains Echoed was one of my most anticipated books this year and it did not disappoint. That being said, it pales in comparison to his previous works - The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Maybe it was the multiple POV thing. With so many characters and so many stories, it's inevitable that some would hit harder than the rest. Personally, I found the first half more emotionally striking - Abdullah, Nabi and Parwana's stories all made me tear up. I missed Afghanistan in the later segments.

And in case it wasn't obvious enough, I just wanted to say that I love Khaled Hosseini. If it weren't for him, I would have foolishly associated Afghanistan with just the Taliban. It's shocking how little I know about this country even though it's so close to mine.

Thank you for the culture-cum-history lessons, Mr. Hosseini. And even if your next book adheres to the formula, I'll still read it and in all likelihood, cherish it.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review : The Translator by Nina Schuyler

Publisher: Pegasus Books
Published on:- July 2nd, 2013.

(Original review posted on Goodreads:- Sep 1, 2013)

I have always frowned upon people who seem to think that reading is a mere pastime, barely suppressing the resentment I felt for those who consider the act of complete engagement with a narrative akin to a childish desire of letting go of reality for a while and stepping into a world detached from our own. I believed them to be ignorant, presumptuous and hopelessly prejudiced.
But after having read The Translator, I feel like I have gained enlightenment of a special kind, become a more empathetic and thoughtful being blessed with a newer perspective on the matter.

Reading can, indeed, be categorized as a form of escapism. A gateway opening up into another metaphysical dimension we cannot gain physical access to. Or it can be the very best thing about our lives. Reading can be whatever we will it to be or perceive it to be. Because contrary to what we like to believe, our world views and personal preferences end up coloring the judgement we pronounce upon every thing else. Nothing can be classified as the absolute truth. It is not wise to view an opinion as a fact, certainly not our own, since our understanding of the world is forever a work in progress.

The essence of The Translator consists not so much of the life events of one particular Hanne Schubert, who effortlessly navigates the world of various languages, but of the basic human fallacy of failing to understand another, the accompanying pangs of miscommunication and the tragedies that transpire as a consequence.
A professional translator, Hanne, eases into the reticent formality of the Japanese language from the confident brusqueness of English within the same heartbeat. She keenly understands the basics of linguistics and elements of a foreign culture, yet struggles to understand her own flesh and blood. As a result, an unbridgeable chasm opens up between Hanne and her daughter Brigitte and this yawning gap stretches across time and space, affecting Hanne in ways she remains unwilling to acknowledge.

She continues to drift through a life revolving around translation assignments, shouldering the burden of repressed grief for her departed husband and estranged daughter without letting it engulf her completely.
But when an accident involving a head injury causes her to lose her mastery of all languages barring Japanese, she is forced to evaluate her true standing in life and embark on a journey of self-discovery, at the end of which she reconciles with her daughter. Although by the time realization dawns on her, it is too late.

But is it really? Nina Schuyler seems to leave the reader with the message that it is never too late to cast aside reluctance and commence the often difficult, two-way process of communication, to stop speaking for a while and patiently listen to what the other one is saying without offering interruptions. And perhaps, it will not be mere folly to take off the rose-tinted glasses of preconceived notions and glance at the world once again, just so we can see facets of it we have been willfully blind to.

As a relatively new author, Nina Schuyler shows incredible promise. Her elegant, understated writing style succeeds in capturing the poignancy of many tender moments. There is something deeply atmospheric about this book and had it not been for the meticulous research that Schuyler must have conducted on Japanese culture and language (even the mention of Japanese tv show 'Long Vacation' holds true since I have seen it), half of the scenarios wouldn't have come to life as they did. Japan, the character of Moto Okuro, the theatre art of Noh could have resembled lifeless replicas but in Schuyler's deft hands, they appear believable.

Hence, a very impressed 4.5 stars rounded off to a 4.

This is definitely the best among all the 2013 releases I have had the fortune of reading so far.

**I received an ARC from netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

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Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

(Original review posted on Goodreads: March 10, 2013)

Here are some things I’ve realized after reading AAoK:

1. John Green is a talented, clever writer with a great sense of humor.

2. Contrary to what I’d like to think, I’m still math-phobic.

3. I’ll never, ever date a has-been child prodigy. Or a washed-up genius. Or a whiny guy who speaks 11 languages. Or whatever it is that Colin’s supposed to be.

An Abundance of Katherines is a hilarious book but it did not make me laugh. Okay, maybe a little but that was more like snorting-in-mild-amusement than full-fledged laughing. I found the humor a little tiresome. But then, I’m the kind of girl who cracks up at things that normal people don’t find even remotely funny so maybe there’s something wrong with me and not the book.

AAoK has a nerdy, heartbroken hero (irritating), some cussing in Arabic (gets taxing after a while), jokes about man-boobs and fractured balls (not really my idea of humor), a lot of math (scary) that strangely looks interesting (I wouldn’t know for sure since I skipped those parts).

Colin really got on my nerves. Whining and theorem-making are not exactly things I’m fond of, and that’s all Colin does (in addition to spewing out random facts). I wish the narration was in first-person; it would have made things more interesting.

The footnotes were a relief. I loved them – even the ones that had math. In fact, they were my sole motivation for trudging through the pages.

This was my first John Green novel and well... I’m not terribly impressed. I hope TFioS and Looking for Alaska fare better.
I’ll leave you with one of those rare lines that actually made me laugh:

“He tried not to sob much, because the plain fact of the matter is that boy-sobbing is exceedingly unattractive. Lindsey said, “Let it out, let it out,” and then Colin said, “But I can’t, because if I let it out it’ll sound like a bullfrog’s mating call.” ”

2.5 rounded off to 3

Review: No And Me by Delphine de Vigan

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads: Jan 24, 2013)

“How do you find yourself at the age of eighteen out on the streets with nothing and no one? Are we so small, so very small, that the world continues to turn, immensely large, and couldn’t care less where we sleep?”

Four years ago, on my way home one night, I met a girl in the train. She was a kid really, selling cheap jewellery. I was standing by the exit, waiting to get down at the next stop. The train jerked, she dropped her stuff and I helped gather it all up – maybe that’s how we got talking. It was a conversation that lasted less than a minute because I had to get down soon, but I remember asking her where she lived. She said:

“Hamara toh koi thikaana nahi hai didi. Hum toh bas idhar-udhar so jaate hai. Kismet ho toh platform par.”

Translation :
“People like me don’t have destinations. We sleep here and there; on platforms when we’re lucky.”

I can’t stop thinking about that encounter ever since I began reading No and Me.

I liked this book a lot. I think I would have liked it just as much even if I hadn’t met that homeless girl that night. No and Me has an impressive subject, two brilliantly sketched characters and a beautifully written story. It’s amazing how this book, which I stumbled across by chance, has left such a deep-seated impression on me.

I won’t say that the book is perfect. A lot of the things that happen are too convenient. Plus the book ends so suddenly that it’s bound to leave a lot of readers feeling high and dry. But that does not really matter – not to me at least.

For me, No and Me isn’t so much about the story as the strangely beautiful bond it explores between the two girls – Lou and Nolwenn. Two girls, who live in starkly different worlds within the same city. Two girls, who try to help each other and make promises they can’t keep. Two girls, who can never fit into each others’ worlds, no matter how hard they try.

And just like that incident in the train, this book doesn't really make me sad; rather, I feel tormented, ill-at-ease and thoughtful. I feel guilty that I never asked her name. I wonder where she is now, where she’s sleeping tonight.

No and Me deserves a lot more readers than it gets.

“Before I met No I thought that violence meant shouting and hitting and war and blood. Now I know that there can also be violence in silence and that it’s sometimes invisible to the naked eye. There’s violence in the time that conceals wounds, the relentless succession of days, the impossibility of turning back the clock. Violence is what escapes us. It’s silent and hidden. Violence is what remains inexplicable, what stays forever opaque.”

3.5 rounded off to 4

Review: Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer by Patrick Suskind

(Original review posted on Goodreads: Oct 7, 2012)

Perfume is a book in a league of its own. It’s unconventional, terrifying and creepy; yet at the same time, dazzling, mesmerizing and strangely hypnotic. Whether I hate it or love it is irrelevant (and honestly, I’m still not sure), because I know that this is a great book. I knew that five minutes after I started reading.

Perfume is a very bizarre tale about a very bizarre murderer, who kills not for sadistic pleasure or monetary gains, but simply in the pursuit of achieving his dream – creating the best perfume in the whole of France, which, quintessentially, is the scent of an adolescent beautiful virgin. But what sets this book apart, aside from the brilliant narration, is the fact that the story solely focuses on Grenouille – his life, his obsession, his single-minded devotion to his craft. No thoughts are spared for the victims or the actual killings; it’s only the scent-induced high that matters.

Grenouille is a character you are supposed to hate. The author never tries to bring about any semblance of humanity in him. In fact, he introduces Grenouille as ‘a gifted abomination’; ‘a tick waiting to bore and bite into animal flesh’. Yet, as much as I loathed him, there were times when I caught myself feeling sorry for him. And it unsettled me because for a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I would feel that way since the book projects Grenouille as nothing less than a monster. But there’s something about how fanatically devoted he is to his passion, how his whole life is centered around scent, that's eerily touching.

The narration is brilliant, as long as Grenouille stays in the picture. Once or twice, however, the author shifts focus to other people, like the perfumer who mentors Grenouille in Paris. And that is when I felt the narration slip a little, going off on tangents. The pace of the book also drops towards the middle.

However, the end more than made up for all that. The story truly came alive in the last 15 chapters and it gripped me with an infectious mix of thrill and paranoia that made it impossible to put the book down. And OMG, the end!! I never saw it coming. It was jaw-dropping, shocking, and very, very clever. In fact, if I had to rate just the concluding chapters, I would give them a 5-on-5.

The writing is exceptionally good. The words are brilliantly chosen, and put together in a way that gives them a dreamlike quality, especially when the author describes scents. And obviously, he does that a lot.

Perfume made my skin crawl and left me reeling. But it also left me spellbound at the sheer ingenuity of Patrick Suskind’s vision. Equal parts creepy and creative, Perfume might not be a book for everyone but it is a great piece of literature regardless.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review : A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

(Original review posted on Goodreads:- May 29, 2013)

Reading this book is nothing short of an agonizing experience.
It almost feels like somebody poking at and opening up our most secret, suppurating psychological wounds and making them bleed all over again, thereby compelling us to wake up to the realization of their existence.
These scars and bruises make their presence known time and again by causing us pain of the highest order. And so we proceed to wrap them up in the protective wadding of false pretensions, carefully hiding them away from the scrutiny of the rest of the world and more importantly, ourselves.
But Kenzaburo Oe does not only wish to cause us pain. He also forces us to acknowledge its perpetuity, accept it and achieve a state of harmony with it.

With every turn of a page, we find ourselves plunging deeper into the bottomless pit of shame, self-loathing and sheer grief along with Bird, our protagonist. But Oe breaks our fall right when we feel we are about to land with a resounding thud and teaches us how to rise, how to summon the courage to confront grim reality and reconcile ourselves with the cruelties inflicted by fate.

Bird (nickname), a young man of twenty seven, keeps drifing in and out of consciousness throughout the length of the narrative. While walking along a busy Tokyo street he is capable of sparing a thought for his pregnant wife experiencing labour pains at the hospital and alternately seeking escapism in the form of dreaming about landscapes of Africa, a continent he desperately wishes to visit some day. He neither seems to feel passionately about his wife nor about the job at the cram school he has landed thanks to the benevolence of his father-in-law. In a sense, he is apathetic to his own life but we are shown that he is not immune from feelings of embarrassment.
Weak-willed and jittery, he refuses to accept the birth of a child with a grotesque lump on its head and crucial genetic deformities. He is appalled to hear his baby would never grow up as a normal child and shamelessly gives in to feelings of utter relief, when he hears from the doctor that chances of his baby's survival are next to none. Although immediately afterwards, he suffers from a keen self-hatred.

During the course of the next few days, like the most cowardly criminal ever, he plots his own baby's murder - by conspiring with the doctor to substitute his supply of milk with sweetened water and, when that fails, by taking the baby to the clinic of a shady abortionist. Yet at the same time he shudders in revulsion at the thought of having to kill a helpless, sick child with his bare hands. He fears being in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law both of whom seem to blame him for everything, and seeks solace in violent sex with an old lover.
Thus, Bird, seems to possess no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. He is a failure at life and everything he does. He is selfish to the point of entertaining ideas of running away with his lover to Africa, abandoning all his responsibilities. He only views his biological child as an oddly assembled, defective mass of flesh, blood and bone. He refuses to give him a name or even acknowledge his gender and burden himself with the task of acquainting himself with his newborn son.
Bird is despicable in the true sense of the term.

But then at the same time, Bird is also the very personification of all our worst human weaknesses. He disgusts the reader but he also evokes feelings of sympathy and solidarity.
Because if we maybe honest enough with ourselves, there's a Bird in each one of us and his deformed baby is a symbol of the indignities of our own personal existence.
Slowly as the days trickle by after the birth of the unwanted child, Bird starts viewing the entity he repeatedly refers to as 'the monster baby', as a human offspring blessed with the powers of sensation and expression. It seems this indisputable fact had eluded him so far.
Thus begins Bird's gradual transformation, which the reader witnesses with mixed feelings. As he comes full circle, traversing the seemingly infinite distance between madness and sanity, so does the reader.
And when he finally finds hope in a hopeless place and begins the long, convoluted process of acceptance, it is not the predictability of this ending which strikes us.
Rather, we are moved by the truth in Bird's realizations and actions.

Oe has written about such a deeply personal aspect of his life (being the father of a brain-damaged son himself) with a mastery, truly characteristic of a  Nobel Laureate. His writing isn't wordy or verbose yet it hits the reader's most sensitive, vulnerable spot every time and makes one feel raw and cut up deep inside.

"The baby was no longer on the verge of death; no longer would the sweet, easy tears of mourning melt it away as if it were a simple jelly. The baby continued to live, and it was oppressing Bird, even beginning to attack him. Swaddled in skin as red as shrimp which gleamed with the luster of scar tissue, the baby was beginning ferociously to live, dragging its anchor of a heavy lump."

He does not want us to shed copious tears at the misfortunes that befall Bird or feel only an acute hatred for his indecision, but experience the entire gamut of human actions and emotions, no matter how blasphemous or conventionally unacceptable each one of them maybe.
In slow succession, the reader becomes-
Bird, the indifferent cram school teacher.
Bird, the day-dreamer.
Bird, the miserable failure of a man.
Bird, the conspiring murderer.
Bird, the unfaithful husband.
And at the very end, Bird, the accepting father.

As one plows along, it becomes apparent that Oe's aim has not been self-indulgent or cathartic story-telling, but instead, to take the whole world along on an immensely difficult journey, he must have embarked on all alone at some point.

Thus, A Personal Matter, ceases to be merely about a personal matter somewhere. Instead, it transforms into one of the most life-affirming stories ever, meant to serve as a universal panacea for the ones suffering from the affliction of an undignified existence.
Oe knows all too well, that he cannot make the pain go away. So he gifts us with the strength to endure it, instead.

5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

(Original review posted on Goodreads: Jan 22, 2013)

I knew before I started that reading this was going to be hard. We Need to Talk about Kevin is listed as one of the most disturbing books on Goodreads.. So, in an attempt to limit the coming agony, I made a few rules:

RULE 1: Do not get emotionally involved.
RULE 2: Do not take sides.
RULE 3: Do not dwell on the disturbing parts.

A hundred pages later, when I put the book down and went to bed only to replay and obsess over Eva’s commentary in my head, I realized my rules were long broken.

I got emotionally involved. I always do. I wish I could say that Eva's so horrible that I couldn't relate to her but a teeny-tiny part of me did, especially at the start. Crying babies terrify me and I have always harbored a lot of reservations about having kids. I’m not saying I never want to have kids; that would be a stupid thing to say considering I wasn’t even an adult four years ago. But I’m the kind of girl who gets a panic attack when she's asked to babysit her hyperactive nephews.

I took sides. Right from the start, I unconsciously sided with Eva. True, the way she thought of her son repulsed me at times, but I felt Kevin’s actions were more repulsive. For me, Kevin was quintessentially evil, and Eva was the poor woman who had the misfortune of bearing him. The fact that she did not want to have him in the first place just seemed to make her more of a victim.

As for not dwelling on the disturbing parts...well, there are NO PARTS. The book in entirety is a systematically harrowing tale with no escape. The only way to skip the distress would be to stop reading the book itself, and while that thought did cross my mind, the bibliophile in me could not stay away. So I persisted. I bore the mental anguish. I let Eva’s commentary drill into my brain.

And that's my answer to why I love this ugly, ugly book. It caused me to recoil in horror so many times, but also made me come back to it every single time. Every minute I was reading, I wanted to stop; yet when I put the book down, I wanted to pick it up again. Like being addicted to something unpleasant and craving it, even when that voice in your head begs you not to.

This is an uncharacteristically long review, but there’s one last thing I want to add. This book left me with a question that’s bothered me for days. Like I said, I have always been on Eva’s side, but the last 4 pages made me reconsider. I mean, whatever Kevin did is inexcusable and gruesome, and I still feel for Eva, but who’s the culprit and who’s the victim?

What’s the cause and what’s the effect?

Is Eva such a cold mother because Kevin is who he is? Or did Kevin become who he is because Eva is such a cold mother?

In the end, who do we really need to talk about? Kevin? Or Eva?

I have ruminated over this question for days, but I feel it’s best to leave it unanswered. Because whatever the truth may be, it’s bound to be hideous.

“It must be possible to earn a devotion by testing an antagonism to its very limit, to bring people closer through the very act of pushing them away. Because after three days short of eighteen years, I can finally announce that I am too exhausted and too confused and too lonely to keep fighting, and if only out of desperation or even laziness I love my son.”

5 out of 5 stars

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