Top Ten Tuesday [Seven Deadly Sins]

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl with a new topic each week.

Apologies for the inactivity, I’m so inundated in assignments right now that I haven’t mentally moved passed the Renaissance literary era for quite some time. Either way, this week was a Halloween-centric topic. I don’t celebrate, but Happy Halloween if you do! I’d like to note that I deliberately excluded Shakespeare from this list, and tried to focus on books which people might not necessarily have read/heard of, to try to achieve at least a minimal degree of originality. Just a tiny bit though, no need to expect too much.

I’d also like to say that I don’t think of these traits as ‘sins’ in themselves, just as I don’t think ‘honesty’ or ‘patience’ are by themselves good. I’d further like to say that anybody who is lazy (me) or a bit greedy shouldn’t see it as hugely negative or a character flaw. Unless you’re analysing yourself in a double spaced word document (I’m very bitter about all the work I have to do), perfectionism in the sense we see it really doesn’t exist. It’s okay to eat a whole packet of biscuits. Or two. If you think that makes you greedy, that’s okay. If we were all perfect, well-rounded individuals, the world would be a very boring place.

I normally don’t intercede with these meaningless opinion-based rants, but, to the collective relief of all, we can move on now. These novels aren’t necessarily ones I’ve loved (although I haven’t put in any that I loathe), at least, not all of them are, but this isn’t a book review so I tried to include a bit of variety. Most of these aren’t really obvious or perfect choices but I picked from books I’ve actually read.

1) Pride in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Considered a classic literary work that is set in the Nigerian clan of Umofia in the late 1800s, before the arrival of the white settlers, Things Fall Apart deals with the character of Okonkwo, a stubbornly traditional, well-respected man in the Igbo villages of Umofia. Achebe creates a vividly detailed cultural reality in the novel, but Okonkwo’s extreme pride is what disrupts the peace, and leads to his fall from grace. His pride is so powerfully manipulative in his overall character that it leads him to extreme violence,  shame and guilt, and he essentially separates himself from any kind of an emotional life and refuses to confront his emotional realities. His extreme egoism clouds his judgement; he refuses to take into consideration other modes of thought and will not stand for anything that strays from tradition. His pride is strongly tied to his understanding of his masculinity, and it is ultimately what results in his fall.

2) Envy in The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
I’m sure everyone’s heard of this, but in case you haven’t read it, it’s told from the perspective of three women, including the titular character, who’s in the habit of people-watching while riding the train. She makes for an interesting unreliable narrator when she is drawn by a woman’s sudden disappearance, but she’s also a good candidate for envy. She still, to some extent, loves her ex-husband, and harbours a great deal of jealousy and resentment for his current wife, as well as for the life they share.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

3) Gluttony in Dragon Rider (Cornelia Funke)
This is a lovely little novel about a dragon named Firedrake finding his way to his legendary home in the Himalayas, called the Rim of Heaven. It’s written for children really, but anyone can read it. The reason I shelved this under gluttony is because the antagonist, the Golden One, is a golden-scaled monstrous creature known as Nettlebrand who is desperate to eat silver-scaled dragons like Firedrake (but he eats many other things besides). He’s sick of cows and sheep and is hungry for real dragons and very proud of his golden scales. He even ate the alchemist who created him (and a lot of other things besides). Literally biting the hand that fed him.

4) Wrath in We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
Kevin, a boy with sociopathic tendencies, becomes a school shooter and is responsible for quite a few deaths. The book is a series of letters from his mother Eva to her husband, but they’re also like a documentation of his various crimes. His blistering rage and intolerably superior attitude are forceful aspects of his character. He is clearly a highly dysfunctional individual motivated by god knows what exactly (and frankly, I don’t want to guess or know) but anger is definitely a large part of it. To be honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy this reading experience, but I know lots of people who’ve loved this book and therefore felt I should include it.

5) Lust in Orkney (Amy Sackville)
This is a strange novel about physical desire and obsession. A professor marries a student forty years his junior and, as per her request, takes her to the sea for their honeymoon, to the Orkney islands in Scotland. Rich in descriptions of landscape and pivoting around a dysfunctional relationship, I can’t tell you what I think of this novel except that if you find it promising you should give it a shot. The professor’s all-consuming desire for a woman four decades younger is the pivoting point of the novel, as well as the sharp disjunct between what he sees and what is.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

6) Sloth in Dungeon Tales (Venita Coelho) 
This is also a book possibly targeted to children/young adults, but again, anyone can read it, and it’s a delightful and funny magic realism story. The Badmash Badshah is a tyrant who revels in cruelty and likes to keep his dungeons well-stocked. However, when he is cursed and can no longer sleep, as per the suggestion of a prisoner, he allows all the prisoners locked in the dungeon to tell him their stories. This is an amusing, interesting little gem (although you can’t expect too much in terms of plot), and I chose it for sloth partly because it’s entirely based around a cast of characters sitting around hearing other people’s stories, which is how the novel progresses. But also, many of the stories are about young men who have things happen to them to their reluctance, where they have little agency, like a spoiled tailor’s son with a magic needle, or an archivist haunted by a family ghost. I really enjoyed reading this back when I read it as a kid.

7) Greed in Elmet (Fiona Mozley)
This modern Robin Hood story is about a father and his two children living off the land. But it’s also about how power-hungry and cruel people can be. In the case of this novel, a landowner named Price becomes the antagonist of sorts, a man unwilling to relinquish profit and property in the face of human suffering. His greed ultimately leads to his hunger for vengeance and he becomes the direct catalyst that tears apart a close-knit family just trying to survive.

That’s all! See you soon, hopefully.
(PS, thanks to my good friend Laura for helping me out with this list and generally being pretty cool.)

Waiting On Wednesday [Adèle]

Waiting On Wednesday is currently hosted by Wishful Endings, and was previously hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

Leïla Slimani won a famous French literary prize and international fame for her novel Lullaby (published in the US as The Perfect Nanny, if I’m not mistaken, which seems to be an attempt to push it to gain mass appeal). I reviewed it a while back, here. In short, the novel opens in medias res; Louise, the nanny, has killed the children. However, Slimani is focussed almost entirely on developing transient emotion, maternal anxieties, and capturing personality. Lullaby is the kind of book that opens itself up to an infinite number of analyses, and it’s also a book that not everyone will like. It’s not a straight mystery (and I usually like those). It doesn’t provide any answers. What it does provide is a smattering of emotional clues as Slimani navigates what is essentially a story of building emotional upheaval, from individual to family, ultimately culminating in murder.

Slimani’s first book was apparently actually published in 2014, In the Ogre’s Garden, in the original French, and it won the La Mamounia literary award (she was the first woman to win it, apparently). Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou said no man would dare to write such a novel.

So, it was published before Lullaby. But I assume (I’ve not seen any websites which actually directly establish a correspondence between In the Ogre’s Garden and Adèle, but they’ve got the same plot/characters), had not been translated into English till date? Either way.

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Author: Leïla Slimani
Expected Publication: 15th Jan, 2019 (but who the hell actually knows)
Publisher: Faber & Faber

One of the things that interested me most about this book is that Slimani said she was inspired by characters in Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary (which I must read now) who were trying to escape their lives. In Adèle, the eponymous heroine, married to a gastroenterologist, is a sex-addict. She leads a double life, one as a successful journalist, married with a son, and another as a woman who struggles to fulfil her physical desires. She is a woman who is slowly losing control of her life by struggling to fill it.

I don’t often read books with a heavy emphasis on sex/romance, and although this book has been lauded as ‘erotic’, I get the impression that the notion has been sufficiently problematised by Slimani. She mentioned that in all the articles she’d read about the subject of sex addiction, none chose to focus on women in specific. Also, being Moroccan, she wanted to use the issue of the suppression of sexuality in Muslim countries as an extreme metaphor, although the novel is set in Paris, I believe. I think this is going to be as complicated and fascinating a book as Lullaby. I’m already sold.

Top Ten Tuesday [Villains]

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl with a new topic each week.

These days, literature as a whole seems slightly more oriented towards the in-betweens rather than black and white characters (a reductionist statement made by someone who hasn’t read enough, in all probability, but hey, if you study literature you’ll make a sweeping generalisation at some point or other), so it’s difficult perhaps to pinpoint the clear ‘villain’ in novels that aren’t strictly fantasy-based. With that in mind, I had to burrow through my goodreads list to try to recall some memorable villainous, or perhaps more ‘grey area’ characters, although I did intentionally go for the ones that are more out-and-out villainous. Three of these are characters are from books aimed at younger audiences, because I guess those usually do have memorable, larger-than-life villains. They’re also, coincidentally, all women (well, except for one, she’s a dragon).

1) Agatha Trunchbull from Matilda (Roald Dahl)
I recently had a reskim through this book because I’d been listening to some (lovely) songs from the musical. I know everyone’s read it, but in case you haven’t, Matilda is a little girl who is something of a prodigy, and the book is an exploration of her rather eccentric childhood. Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of Matilda’s school, is (to put it mildly) an angry, remorseless and thoroughly evil child abuser. It’s easy to hate a character like her, although she gets her comeuppance in the end. I have my own issues with Dahl, but Trunchbull (despite being invested with ‘masculine’ attributes as a woman in the film – I’m not sure how they describe her in the book – thus suggesting that people who don’t solidly conform to gender norms are cruelty personified; perhaps not the best choice, or perhaps an overanalysis on my part) can really strike fear into the heart of the reader. Many viewers commented that the scene where Matilda enters her house and Trunchbull tries to hunt her down (in the film, that is) is excessively stressful to watch. No doubt. She’s horrible and inspires an instant repulsion.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

2) Mrs Danvers, Rebecca from Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
I don’t want to give too much away in case someone hasn’t read it (If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Read it asap!) but this Gothic novel was one of the first books I remember reading as a child that jolted me somehow. With one of the most memorable openers in the history of literature, the novel is narrated by an unnamed woman, Maxim de Winter’s second wife, as she struggles to find a place in the estate of Manderley, haunted by the suffocating presence of de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca, absent, but always lingering. Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, is a cold and eerie figure, obsessed with the previous mistress of the house. Although Rebecca never makes an appearance in the present narrative and is only recalled in memory, she is somehow still there on every page. I wouldn’t go as far as to choose out and out villains here (although I have named two who come close) because quite possibly this text allows a more nuanced reading, but it’s a book I always recommend when asked about this genre, and I’m very glad I read it as a kid so I could be properly electrified by the climactic scene. I don’t think I’d be as much affected if I read it now.

3) China Sorrows from the Skulduggery Pleasant series (Derek Landy)
Derek Landy’s novels make for fun, interesting reading, with the series fronted by a skeleton (Skulduggery) and a teen girl (Stephanie/Valkyrie). Although I found that the further I went into the series (there are nine books, and I think he’s started another series with the same characters), it got a little too ‘full-speed ahead, the world’s really going to end’ in every book, it didn’t take away from the fact that the characters are all funny, vibrant and unusual. I read the series primarily for its comedic value really, and China Sorrows emerged as an interesting character. Although China, a collector of books and valuable objects, isn’t a villain per se when we meet her in the books (she’s often reluctantly on the side of the good guys, although she’s definitely not one herself), she’s very much motivated by selfish interests and has quite an unsavoury backstory. She’s done some pretty horrible things. She has the (difficult to believe, really) power to make anyone fall in love with her which she shamelessly exploits. Despite this somewhat untenable trait, she maintains a strict air of secrecy and is learned in magic. Like most of Landy’s characters, in spite of her characteristically bored, cool mannerisms, you often find yourself rooting for her.

“Isn’t it? This necklace has cost two very fine men their lives. At times, I wear it in tribute to their sacrifice. Other times, I wear it because it goes with this skirt. Would you like to come in?” – China Sorrows, Playing With Fire (Skulduggery Pleasant #2), Derek Landy

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Image (c) goodreads.com

4) The Other Mother from Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
I’m not the biggest Gaiman fan (well, my blog currently has a quote up by him but forget that); I’ve only really loved two books by him – The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Coraline, as well as some assorted short stories. But Coraline is worth the read. An adventurous little girl, Coraline finds a passage in her new house that leads her to a far more exciting set of parents, her ‘other mother’ and her ‘other father’. Only, they’ve got buttons for eyes, and they’d love for her to stay forever. The other mother is a scheming, eerie figure who’s the brains behind the operation of this mirror world she’s created. It’s a wonderfully creepy, inventive story. The movie is a real piece of art as well (I don’t normally watch a lot of films, but I loved this one) and it actually does better with plot continuity, a bit, I think. A great book for all ages, although I think the other mother might freak kids out. She’s definitely quite the villain.

5) Lien from the Temeraire series (Naomi Novik)
Novik’s series is a historical fantasy set during the Napoleonic wars, where the aerial corps is dragon-based. Exciting. Lien is a red-eyed albino dragon largely regarded with fear (white is the colour of mourning in China) who sets herself against Laurence and Temeraire (our protagonists, human and dragon respectively). She’s a learned dragon with much more experience than Temeraire, and she soon comes to despise him, Although I haven’t kept up with the series as much as I’d like, and haven’t read the more recent ones, so I’m not entirely sure what happens to her, but I’ll keep reading till I find out. I have to restart the series to be able to follow though, I’m pretty sure.

I will see you bereft of all that you have, of home and happiness and beautiful things. I will see your nation cast down and your allies drawn away. I will see you as alone and friendless and wretched as am I; and then you may live as long as you like, in some dark and lonely corner of the earth, and I shall call myself content. – Lien, Black Powder War (Temeraire #3), Naomi Novik

I wanted to do a series of perhaps characters who are less ‘villain’ and more ‘grey’. Ah well, that’s not how this one turned out. Maybe sometime next week (…as if).

All quotes attributed to the respective work(s).

Book Review: The Vanishing Year [by Kate Moretti]

PS, may contain minor spoilers.

Moretti’s thriller The Vanishing Year has been praised for its twists and turns specifically. There are a lot of people who were really impressed with this book, but sadly, I’m not one of them.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

Zoe is a thirty year old woman living the life of a rich socialite; she’s married to successful businessman Henry Whittaker and lives in the lap of luxury with a constant stream of expensive clothing and jewellery her husband likes to present her with. Having left behind her previous identity and taken on a new name, she attempts to fill her rich but hollow life with charitable causes, all the while unable to mentally escape from the life she left behind. She’s on a search for her birth mother, which is in some ways the impetus that sets off the chain of events in A Vanishing Year. Her husband after a courtship of a quick four months disapproves, and she is soon caught in the chaos of her discarded old life coming back to collide with her glamorous new one.

First off, I should say this book was largely a dull, trudge-through read for me. Moretti’s prose is clear and even concisely descriptive (if such a thing is possible), but the pacing moves at something of a snail’s pace until the last fourth of the book. Not ideal for a domestic suspense novel being marketed as an edgy thriller. The relationship between Henry and Zoe is near-close to textbook abusive, which is evident right from the start. However events unfold in the rest of the novel, their relationship is as dysfunctional as it gets, something Zoe appears to be half-aware of, but placates herself into accepting. Moretti is quick and keen to invest Henry’s character with a kind of perfection that is excessive; handsome, endlessly wealthy, devoted, he’s almost like a leading man in a romance film. Except he’s sickeningly controlling. The result is that most of his scenes with Zoe are charactererised by a jarring incongruity where you keep waiting for him to do something awful (or, I should say, worse).

As a character, Zoe is difficult to place, and not as well-sketched as I’d like. She makes decisions in fits and starts, angry and accepting, full of suspicion but reluctant to act. In this I’m reluctant to judge her as a clear victim in an abusive relationship, but the result is that she makes for a flat character who is difficult to pin down (and not in a good way). She is mercurial in mood and action and despite the novel being told in her first person narrative, I feel like I actually know very little about her and what she really wants. The only character I did somewhat appreciate was Evelyn, Zoe’s adoptive mother, who doesn’t actually put in an appearance, but primarily appears through Zoe’s memories. She’s interesting and dynamic, if a little bit strangely flawless (in some ways) and contradictory. She’s at least mildly intriguing as a charcter, which I can’t really say of the others.

The plot. Sigh. I could predict the biggest twist once I had enough information at my disposal, although I’m not sure whether this is due to my consistent unhealthy appetite for bad mystery thrillers. After that, it was pretty much easy to tell where the plot was going, and nothing really surprised me in the whole novel. It could just be me, although I’m a pretty lazy reader. Moretti also left certain gaps which irked me, she explained most of the big things but some details were just scattered on the way and left unthreaded. The whole novel felt kind of weakly-structured and I was left with a lot of questions at the end. A lot of things felt irrelevant when the novel built up to the ultimate reveal. Not that I think that all novels need to abide by the Chekhov’s Gun rule, but I felt like I’d wasted my time a bit, reading about relationships and conversations which had no place in the last couple chapters as the novel wrapped up.

Ideas are infallible, people are not. Don’t confuse the two.

The novel as a whole just didn’t interest me. For the first half I kept wondering why things were so placid and calm for a relationship so messed up, I kept waiting for Moretti to pull the rug out and turn everything totally topsy-turvy. But ultimately it’s probably that my expectations were too high. I stuck with the book because it got such good reviews, but Moretti spent entirely too much time building on characters and relationships, all heavily messed up without the need for any kind of surplus dramatic interruption. When something bad happens it’s pretty much anticipated already.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult, I’m sure, to build a believable but unpredictable plot these days with a new families-with-secrets domestic mystery-drama being published every second. Every other book’s the new Gone Girl. And this probably speaks to the fact that I’ve been reading too many of them. But still, while I think Moretti made an admirable attempt, for me, this just didn’t work as a thriller/mystery.

Apologies if this review is a bit all over the place, I stupidly didn’t make notes while reading. Didn’t actually expect to review this, but ah well.

All quotes attributed to the respective work.

Waiting On Wednesday [A Suitable Girl]

Waiting On Wednesday is currently hosted by Wishful Endings, and was previously hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

This is the first time I’ve done this particular list. I don’t often carefully follow up with series’ or books I’m really looking forward to reading. Books are expensive and when they’re just released they tend to be a little more so (or at least in my country), especially when they’re out in hardcover first. So I find it’s easier to forget about them till it comes to a time when I can actually practically afford to buy the thing. But some books just stay in your head.

Lately, this one’s been in my head a lot, because a friend of mine just finished reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and we’ve been constantly discussing it ever since. It’s Seth’s 1400+ page magnum opus about a cluster of families and their variable issues – some small, some big – in the political and religious tumult of post-independence India. The much-anticipated sequel, A Suitable Girl, has been talked of for the past couple months (maybe further back) but who knows when we’re actually going to see it in print. I know a lot of people here are quite excited, I definitely am – though it’ll probably take me two weeks to finish it.

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Author: Vikram Seth
Expected Publication: 10th Jan, 2019 (but who the hell actually knows)
Publisher: Orion

As per available news, A Suitable Girl is what Seth called a “jump sequel” set in the modern times, as opposed to A Suitable Boy which was published in ’93 and set in the 1950s. There’s not been much else about it really; it was supposed to be published several years ago (maybe around 2013) but Seth met with writer’s block and then had some personal issues as well as contractual issues (with Penguin). Apparently A Suitable Girl is supposed to deal with Lata Mehra’s (a major character in A Suitable Boy) search for a match for her grandson. It sounds like a romance-and-marriage novel but if you’ve read A Suitable Boy you’ll know that it deals with really everything under the sun, from government, politics and voting to families on various points in the economic strata and marriage deals, from religious strife and friendship to grief and young love, from internal family politics to…well I could go on forever. It really is an epic novel in that sense.

I think my hopes are definitely high for A Suitable Girl, definitely I can’t fault Seth’s writing or his immaculate way of capturing the voices of several generations in one go. But since this is a more modern sequel, I definitely hope that marginalised characters (women, the poor, those from the so-called ‘lower’ castes, etc) will be able to find some more agency and that will be spotlighted. India as a country today is a multitude of contradictions, and it’s definitely going to be a challenge to capture that, but we’ve come a long way from the 1950s for sure.

Mini Reviews [October 2018]

How the year has flown by. And how awful I’ve been at blogging. Well, not too bad, but I’m really bad at saying hi to people and reading other blogposts (the wordpress app isn’t great, I’ve got to say), which I realise is an essential part of blogging. As an introvert, I often find it difficult to approach people like that, but equally, I think saying “say hi!” is a bit too much to expect of others because I know there’s a lot of introverts out there. Anyway, let’s get to it. I’ve got to write better intros. I read a couple books. Here are some thoughts.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

1) Elmet (Fiona Mozley)
It’s practically impossible to tell what this book is about from the dustjacket, but essentially it’s a modern Robin Hood-esque kind of narrative about two children, Daniel and Cathy, and their father, living a life rooted to the land. This book has been praised for its linguistic lyricality and that’s definitely a huge factor in its favour; there’s a definite beauty to the way Mozley uses words. But there’s also (unexpectedly) a lot of sympathy to be found in these characters. And it’s been a while since I felt so emotionally invested in fiction (it doesn’t happen for me often) in a sense that I was touched and (naturally) totally helpless. I don’t think I went into this book expecting much (primarily because I had no idea what it was about), and I probably haven’t given you too many details. The plot isn’t very strong but I don’t think it was intended to be. But if you like thoughtful, strong prose and can handle a couple of tragic turns, I’d give this a go. I think a few people might find it slow; you can probably tell whether you’re up for it or not by the style of the writing, I suppose.

2) Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer)
Non-fiction, and what it says on the tin. This is primarily a US-centric narrative, and I read it for some research I’m doing, but I found it to be helpful, compact and well-researched. As you can imagine, it’s basically about the factory-farming system and the question of its sustainability and the morality operating behind it. It really does take a good look at the issue from all angles. I found it to be a good introduction to the animal rights issue as someone who’s relatively new to the theory of it. Some of it (I’m thinking of the chapter breakup images, specifically) felt a little gimmicky, but apart from that, I think it’s been really useful to me. If you’re new to the whole concept of how factory-farming flies in the face of animal rights, I’d definitely recommend it (bearing in mind that it works primarily to discredit the system).

3) Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
For some reason, I was under the (mistaken) impression that this was some kind of classic, you know, the way Poe and Jackson are. I was wrong. Or maybe I wasn’t wrong, I don’t know. Cathy (the narrator), her brother Chris, and their twin siblings are hidden away for what their mother promises will be a short time, for the greater good. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a short time at all. There’s only one thing to be learned from this highly disturbing mess: don’t let your mother lock you in the attic. Honestly, I’m not opposed to reading novels that come with their fair share of gruesomeness and horror, god knows my addiction to mysteries and thrillers means I’m always going to be reading this stuff, but this was just not my cup of tea. If it’s yours, I guess that’s cool. I’ve got nothing bad to say about it really, apart from that it’s extremely perverse for what I assume is sensational value, but a lot of books are. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I suspect it’s not really the kind of book anyone reads on recommendation anyway. On the advice of a friend I read up the summaries for the next couple books, because it’s a series. Then I felt exhausted. I drank some tea. This family is really messed up.

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4) The Party (Robyn Harding)
Advertised as a domestic drama, basically it’s another “everything’s perfect but everyone’s got secrets” story. Kim and Jeff think their kids are more or less perfect, so they’re more than shocked when a simple sleepover at their daughter Hannah’s sixteenth birthday party goes horribly wrong. This was really a very mediocre read, bit of a let down. I was disappointed a third in but was determined to finish it. The plot isn’t great, the writing is okay but nothing to write home about, and the characters (particularly the teens) seem a bit caricature-ish to me. No doubt it’s difficult for adults to write realistic teen characters, and kids are cruel, but I feel like this was a bit out there on the whole. Everything was explored at a very shallow level and the novel isn’t of much psychological interest despite the fact that several characters are driven by motivations that are more evil than good. I’d pass on this.

5) The Night Child (Anna Quinn)

This is a short, sensitively-handled piece of fiction about a high school English teacher, Nora Brown, married with a child (six year old Fiona whom she loves dearly) and haunted by something of a recurring hallucination. Reluctantly, driven to desperation and fearful that she’s losing her mind, she seeks therapy in order to understand the persistent image of a blue-eyed young girl whose face she keeps seeing. Maybe it’s because I’m a cynic, but there’s not much mystery to this novel – you can probably already tell what it’s about. That aside, I still think Quinn did a decent job with the difficult revelations held in this book, and she handled it with maturity. I think the strongest point in favour of the book is its exploration of emotional scarring, and although I thought the ending was a bit of a cop out, the book seems to have been written with a strong awareness of what she was dealing with on the author’s part. It’s not much of a mystery, but it’s short and I think, valuable for its insight.

I know I should be doing a full-length review at some point considering this is a book review blog, but nothing I’ve read recently has really warranted it. Time to start catching up on things, really.

Top Ten Tuesday [The Longer Books]

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl with a new topic each week.

I apologise for the lack of posts, I’d been doing really well but lately I’ve been really busy and blogging has kind of taken a backseat. Anyway, I adore long books. Sometimes I will pick one book over another because it’s long. There’s definitely this weird (and incorrect) thought in my head that a long book is somehow worth more – which is obviously not true. However I can never read a long book as an ebook, so that’s always a downside. As a result, all the long books I’ve read I either own or have borrowed.  Here are some I’ve read.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

1) The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton) 
At 848 pages, this isn’t as long as some but it’s hardly short. Basically it’s about prospecting in New Zealand in 1866 and, like any epic novel, features a wide cast of characters. It’s structured interestingly with parts of the book corresponding to phases of the lunar cycle (is that the right word, phases?), but like many other readers, I found this kind of unnecessary. I read it with some degree of interest because I knew virtually nothing about the West Coast Gold Rush, but I don’t readily recommend it to other people. (Sidenote: Catton’s debut novel The Rehearsal which deals with a high school scandal couldn’t be more different from The LuminariesI hesitate to recommend it, but if you’re interested you should look it up, and I really should find the time to reread it someday, because it’s just weird.)

2) Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
At 964 pages. I’ve already talked about this so I won’t go into it again, but if you’re interested in a long Russian novel about love and disillusionment, you can’t do better really.

3) A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)
It’s 1474 pages and worth it. A friend and I have been eagerly discussing the much-awaited sequel, A Suitable Girl. Although the book is (for some reason lost to me) advertised as a love-and-marriage story, it’s about a lot of other things. It’s about so many things that I’m not even sure I could put them all together – marriage and love for sure, but also politics, religion, government, small families, big families, different families, card games, ceremonies, children…so much, really. If you’re looking for a long, detailed look at an independent India in the 1950s, this book can give you a pretty good picture.

4) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
At 1006 pages, this is a historical fantasy (ish?) novel set in England, dealing with two rival magicians. I really wanted to like this book (I say this a lot), and I very much liked the way it was written, with the occasional half-page long citation that made me feel I was reading something much more academic. But sadly, I didn’t really find much to like about the plot or the characters, and for a novel that’s relatively recent, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of women characters (the few who were included were of little importance and had hardly any agency).

5) The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
I think I’ve lost my copy of The Secret History and I must buy one immediately to remedy that loss. Last but not least, at 771 pages, The Goldfinch is the book I recommend much less than (but love probably just as much as) The Secret History. An adolescent boy who loses his mother carries one constant that stays with him (and the reader), throughout the novel: a painting. Some call Tartt pretentious (I’ve no doubt these claims are legitimate), but I genuinely love the way she writes. Some have compared her to Dickens which seems ridiculous to me (because I can’t stand him). Sometimes it’s that simple. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this as much had anyone else written it.

I’m very surprised I’ve managed to actually finish this list without falling asleep. I want to add that some of the longer books I plan to read (soonish) are War and PeaceBitter FruitThe Pillars of the EarthThe Neapolitan Trilogy and A Fine Balance (this is based entirely on a first-seen-first-served basis, depending on which books are in my line of sight, staring me down from my bookshelf as I type).

I apologise if this post is a little rushed and sloppy, I’m bone-tired. See you soon (the good thing about the word ‘soon’ is its vagueness).

Snicket Series [Part 3]

In Intro

In short, I’m reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. In long, check out

Part 1 | Part 2

People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict. – The Grim Grotto

On the Books

I think the most concise and effective way to express my feelings at present is through a incoherent howl of confused rage. On that optimistic note, I read the final three books of the series, for the first time, as I had not in fact read them before. (I think I’d kind of skimmed the eleventh ages ago, but not really read it properly). They are

The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril and The End.

With these books, naturally the series draws to a conclusion. First I want to say that I very much enjoyed the literary allusions and references, from the beautifully simple ‘The world is quiet here’ to other references drawn from Eliot and Carroll. I’m sure if the books are combed through by an ardent researcher there will be a hundred and one references to literature and other things, from ‘Baudelaire’ and ‘Beatrice’ to Virginia Woolf and Orwell. (Having googled it, I can confirm that several ardent researches have noticed a hundred and one things.)

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As I read through the eleventh and twelfth books specifically, I liked both the moral complexity which I discussed earlier and I also (as a reader) developed a kind of serenity in knowing that I would not really get the ending I wanted. In the last three (or four, really) books, the narrative just becomes a lot more interesting and mature. It stops becoming entirely about one incident after another, and it becomes more thoughtful, contemplative and therefore (to me), interesting.

The thirteenth book, The End, was the hardest for me. And I can immediately tell you why. Right from the outset, when I started rereading the first couple of books, I knew it was because I wanted to know how the series ended. I had no other real agenda; I’m not a huge fan of Snicket’s pedantry, his sense of humour isn’t exactly my thing, and therefore sections where he went on about this word or that situation which had no bearing on the plot became a drag for me. That is really my problem in a nutshell, because you should know –

The End  provides no answers. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. The reader learns nothing. We are given no satisfactory end, that in itself is an issue, because after a certain point Snicket admits he doesn’t know what the Baudelaires are doing now. We are given no real, concrete details about VFD. We don’t know anything about the sugar bowl. Nothing about why Count Olaf did this or that, why their parents allowed or facilitated their chain of incompetent guardianship (which, thankfully, is explained to some extent on the show, if not very well). We learn nothing. And therein lies my frustration.

I read the books because I wanted to know simply what happened at the end. That was the wrong reason for reading these particular books, that’s simply it. Snicket’s idea in the last book is that mystery upon mystery upon mystery is unsolveable, there is no way of knowing and there is no point. Snicket proceeds to expound a philosophy of sorts about surviving treachery. Around halfway through The End, I basically knew that answers would never come (firstly because the plot of the book was going in a direction that required it to reach some kind of end first, and in relation, there weren’t enough pages left for a proper ending). Two-thirds through, I gave up but kept reading. At the end of The End, alas, no answers.

So…I could rail against Snicket, but to be honest these books have been out for a while and there’s not much point – and besides, I feel it’s partly my fault, I should’ve known that it would end like this, with the way the plot was going. If we didn’t have any answers by book twelve it wasn’t suddenly going to show up in the final novel. Do I feel cheated? Yes. Do I feel like it was a cop out? Yes. Do I feel like Snicket could have achieved his philosophy without wholly compromising on revelations? Yes. And, do I feel an irrational rage stemming from the fact that Daniel Handler (the real Snicket, as it were) knows the truth behind the sugar bowl and refuses to tell? Oh, yes.

Should the books just be avoided entirely because of this reason? Not really. The gently sardonic and darkly comedic vein that runs throughout the novels has obviously appealed to many people, because it’s sold a ton of copies. Just because they didn’t fully appeal to me doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appeal to you. But, if you’re reading this series because you’re expecting answers, because you like a semi-clean novel with at least a few things resolved, you shouldn’t read it. The end of the series is a mess. An interesting mess, but a mess nevertheless, that cannot be sorted. There are no answers to be had, unless you’re working them out yourself.

You cannot live far from the treachery of the world, because eventually the treachery will wash up on your shores. – The End

In short, I’m disappointed, but not really surprised. I wish there had been answers to a couple of main things, and the rest could’ve been left up to the audience to figure out. If the novels had resolved some things, I might just have reread the books to try to figure out something and have another look at the allusive content. But I’m not a rereader, and I know to think I will reread thirteen books (even if they are short) in the wistful and misleading hope for an answer is not something I can realistically expect of myself. I’ll just google everything instead.

On the Show

I have nothing bad to say about the show! I like it. I like that it’s been slightly updated for a more socially aware age, not in a way that’s very evident, of course, but in stray remarks here and there, and also with a character of Olaf’s troupe (the person of indeterminate gender) who wasn’t treated very fairly in the books. I like that they’re introducing certain things (which crop up in the books later) earlier (like the sugar bowl and VFD revelations). I’ve watched all of Season Two now, so we’ve ended with the events of The Carnivorous Carnival. Three books remain.

I think the show is also managing to strike a balance (unsteady and fragile though it may be) between the absurd nature of the books and a shot of logical reasoning (that is more present in the show) every now and again. And Violet’s outfits are lovely. The constant scene changes (which of course originated with the books) keep it interesting even though we know the formula.

When the third (and final) season of the show comes out I will definitely be watching it. I hope to be able to write up a post on it and also to reevaluate whether my thoughts on the books have changed. I also hope it won’t choose to end the series the way the books did. I really hope so.

All images (c) goodreads.com. All quotes attributed to the respective works (c) Lemony Snicket.

Top Ten Tuesday [Quick Lit-Fic Reads]

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl with a new topic each week.

So the actual topic for this week is bingeworthy TV shows/amazing movies. But to be honest, I don’t watch a great deal of television, and I watch roughly two movies a year (does a third count if I’ve seen the first five minutes of Finding Nemo five thousand times?) so I thought I would twist this to the extreme and just stick to books. Literary fiction as a genre can sometimes produce more unwieldy, long and detailed novels, so I thought I’d list some that while maybe not ‘bingeable’, can be short and fast but interesting, condensed and striking reads.
PS, I’m slotting these under lit-fic for convenience’s sake. I think such boundaries are really more arbitrary than necessary.

1) Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh)
Eileen is essentially a single character study, and so deliberately focussed and detailed that it goes very fast. We spent 270 odd pages in the mind of a deeply insecure, self-aware and disturbed young woman living with her alcoholic father. There is actually not a great deal of significant action in this book until towards the second half, but even then the selling point of this book hinges on how Moshfegh sketches with precise detail the psychological state of very specific kind of person. Eileen is not especially likeable, but this is somehow very readable all the same.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

2) Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
I’ve yet to read anything else by Steinbeck, but this powerful and tragic novel about two ranch workers dreaming of a better future during the Great Depression has always stayed with me. The title is from a Robert Burns poem – “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry” – and the novel is a moving and almost painful elucidation of those lines.

3) The Stepford Wives (Ira Levin)
Written in 1972, this is a satirical novel set in the fictional town of Stepford. When photographer Joanna Eberhart moves there with her husband and children, she is disturbed by the women of the community who seem submissive to an extreme. An important novel, and almost chilling in its figurative implications.

4) In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Daniyal Mueenuddin)
I have been recommending this book to a lot of people, and I’m not entirely sure why. Sparsely linked but otherwise independent stories tell of class, family, and gender in a dying Pakistani feudal order. I think this has received its fair share of criticism and I’m not oblivious to its exclusions, but I enjoyed reading it, although I found it to be (especially in certain stories) perhaps more invested in individual characters than society as a whole.

Four will have to do because I can’t think up a fifth. That’s all, folks.