05-Apr-2014

Books update




After having discovered Kate Atkinson, I got on to the job of catching up with her body of work. The library only had Emotionally Weird, which is not a mystery novel at all (which is what I thought she wrote) and is advertised as a comic work. The story revolves around a mother-daughter pair exchanging stories about each other’s lives in a cold and remote island in Britain where a dilapidated family home is situated. The daughter’s story is all about her days in college and meanders slowly through student characters and small incidents. The mother’s story is kept very concise and like the daughter, you want to know more. In the end, you do. I would not necessarily call this a comic book but it is well written and if you are the kind who likes slice-of-life stories, then this one is apt

Next on my list was Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar. P had mentioned that she was reading this book and Nagarkar being a favourite author, I decided to give it a shot. The book is located in 17th century Mewar. The central theme of the crown prince being cuckolded is mostly an anchor to the story rather than being the main story itself.  Instead the book delves in depth on power play, intrigues, plots and politics. It also gives a good sense of history around that time. I have rarely seen Indian historical fiction combining history and fiction so effortlessly.  (Not that I have read too many of them. Are there any good ones by the way?). Not surprised to know that it is one of the author’s most famous works.

The last book was Robert Jordan’s first book from the Wheel of Time series, the Eye of the World. I have always wanted to read the series but never got around to it. I finally got started. Robert Jordan used to author Conan the Barbarian stories. That should give you an idea of the depth and entertainment value of the story. (I think I am judging too harshly and hastily). Unlike a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or even a Game of Thrones series, the book gives no indication of having thought through an entire parallel universe. Instead it almost feels like the author just kept writing on a whim, throwing in lofty sounding names from time to time. Just as the story reaches a point when you think there is going to be some mild philosophy or a character is going to be disposed off, the story bounces back into lighter territory. But then, I suspect that a series containing twelve parts will only slowly reveal its world. In the meantime, I enjoyed the pace, the characters and the gimmicks. The book suited me well because by the time I reach the end of the day, which is when I have time to read my book, my brain is too tired to process anything too thoughtful but also too annoyed to read something trashy. Looks like I have hit jackpot with this series.

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This book began as ‘January book updates’ but considering it is April, quite some time has passed. As usual I have already forgotten some of the stuff I read. 

I continued to search out Kate Atkinson’s books and ended up with the much acclaimed Life after Life. This book ponders different ways in which a person’s life can turn out. Or different ways in which a character’s life can be shaped by the author. The protoganist, Ursula Todd, dies as soon as she born in one version. In another version she signs out in childhood. In another version she has lead a full life. The story follows roughly the same trajectory and incidents. Atkinson is honest to her character’s personality and in no version does she do something that make her seem like an altogether different person. It is just the choices that Ursula makes or that fate throws to her that set the course of her life. It is a very well written book and left me with a slightly hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. How many choices have I made that have brought me where I am? What are the other possible universes in which I exist leading a slightly different life?

With the hollow feeling continuing in the pit of my stomach, it was a while before I laid my hands on another book. This was a pity because the other books I had borrowed from the library remained untouched and finally I had to return them with a hefty fine.

The next book was picked up during a trip home. I was visiting J who had reviewed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in her blog. I borrowed it from her and sat and read it cover to cover. The book was quite fast paced and the author generously throws in elements that are meant to make you go ‘wow, I did not see that coming’. Though I thought the author had been a bit manipulative to achieve that element of surprise. The book tells its tale from the point of view of the husband and his wife who has disappeared. What happened to the wife? Was she kidnapped? Done away with? Did she disappear on her own? Was their marriage what it seemed to be? A good holiday page turner

In the airport on the way back to Singapore, I picked up Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 train journeys. The book covers the 80 train journeys that the author undertook in India. The author is a Brit of Indian origin. Having lived briefly in India in her childhood, she does not have very pleasant memories but decides to rediscover her country. And what better way to do it than by traversing its length and breadth in the vast Indian railway network. She covers luxury trains, trains in the back of the beyond, toy trains, local trains and every kind of train that you will. The book could have easily veered off into the territory of shallow, wide-eyed NRI observations. Luckily the author avoids that trap and keeps the pop philosophy out for most part. Her observations make an effort to understand the general cultural context in which events occur. Besides, I love trains myself and while I would have loved to have these experiences first hand, I was glad to atleast read a well-written account.

When I finished this book, I suddenly got the feeling that perhaps I was living a bit too much in my books and a bit too less in the outside world. Mommy guilt stuck. While I did most of my reading after Bobo went to bed, I stayed up so late that I was not functional in the couple of hours I spent with Bobo in the mornings before heading off to work. (Warning – if you are planning to have a child, remember you can have totally random guilt trips). Anyway the long shot was that I decided to give myself a break.

In my next trip to the library, I borrowed what was definitely trash and a Doris Lessing. Both books seemed to be the kind that I would easily put away when I felt sleepy or when life intervened. Obviously for very different reasons.

My first choice (Wolves in Chic Clothing) proved me right. The book sticks purely to superficial territory when it comes to detailing the lives of rich, educated and intelligent Trust-fund heiresses. Surprisingly, it is also quite prudish. The protagonist is tempted to carry on an affair with her boss’s husband but their hot, two hour sessions are always confined to kissing. Target reader segment – Tweens? 

Next is the Doris Lessing, which I am hoping will be too heavy to be gripping. In a nice coincidence a friend brought her up at lunch yesterday and lavished high praise. So I am quite looking forward to get started

 

2 comments:

entropy said...

p.s. 'The wheel of time' series has 14 books, not 12.

Zen

Anita said...

entrophy - ah. have you read them all? where are you now?