Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mount TBR: First Check-In

It's the end of March and time for the first check-in for the Mount TBR challenge hosted by Bev @ My Reader's Block. Time basically for me to go oh oh...because I have merely read two books, of which one hasn't even been reviewed. The books read are Beloved Witch, and Many Lives, Many Masters. Both the books deal with certain inexplicable mysteries of this universe. The latter made quite an impression on me since I read it at a point when I was dealing with a sudden loss in my life.

I have ten more books to go before I reach the top.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Careless People: Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

What are we if not an accumulation of our memories?

At the end of The Great Gatsby, Nick calls Tom and Daisy, Careless People. This is the phrase that came to my mind as I finished S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep.

But first the facts. A woman wakes up to find herself in a strange room, on a strange bed, and beside a strange man. The stranger is wearing a wedding ring and the woman curses herself for having slept with a married man. Before she can gather her thoughts however, she needs to use the washroom, so she goes barefoot over there. Why barefoot? Because, in her own words: I ignore the slippers at my feet - after all, fucking the husband is one thing, but I could never wear another woman's shoes.

This sanctimonious pronouncement at page two of the novel was enough to put my teeth on edge, and make me completely unsympathetic towards the protagonist. And, of course, we are supposed to feel a great deal of sympathy for the poor woman because she suffers from a particular disorder that makes her forget her memories every time she goes to sleep. So every day she wakes up with no recollection of the past, not even with an idea about who she is. And so has to be told everything from scratch by her loving husband Ben (yes, it is her husband who was sleeping beside her).

But to get back to the story, after Ben leaves for his office, Christine's (yes, that is the woman's name) reverie is broken by the ringing of a bell. Eventually, she locates the source to a hand-bag where she finds a mobile-phone ringing away to glory. The voice at the other end says that it is her Doctor Nash calling and then arranges for her to meet him. (One of the abiding mysteries of the novel is as to who used to charge Christine's mobile: Nash, Ben, or Christine herself?) Once they meet, Nash hands over a journal to Christine. This is a diary that he says has been written by Christine herself as part of the therapy. He wants her to read it. She takes it home, opens it, and finds this in bold letters: DON'T TRUST BEN.

And so it begins...

(The rest of the post contains SPOILERS so please don't read any further till you have read the book)

I don't know when it was the last time that I came across such a repulsive cast of characters. Christine, for whom we are supposed to have a bleeding heart, seems to have a habit of using people, noticeable right from the time of her first sexual encounter. Even her affair with Mike is a way of getting back at Ben and getting some material for her novel. Thus even while having an intimate moment with Mike, all she is thinking of is how to put the feelings in a book. And of course when it is all over for her, true to her type, she discards him.

And what about those who supposedly care for her? The husband and friend move away not even bothering to ask where she is. And the son, the oh-so-dutiful Adam who can't wait to get out and make a phone call to his pregnant girlfriend couldn't be bothered to make a visit to his mother (or even to call up the institute to inquire about her) all these months.

And these are the people who Christine thinks love her and will take care of her! How will they cope, I wonder, with the trauma of her waking up every morning without any recollection of the past whatsoever? Would they painstakingly explain everything to her and take care not to lose their temper or patience? Oh, but wait a minute, they are not going to be tested in this manner because - you know - Christine has got back her memory. Oh Wonderful!  Applause all around. All's well now and everybody will live happily ever after.

Why, oh why, did I waste my time on this book?

First Line: The bedroom is strange.

Title: Before I go to Sleep.

Author: S.J. Watson

Publication Details: London: Black Swan, 2012

First Published: 2011

Pages: 372


Being a phenomenal bestseller, the book can be easily purchased. I borrowed it from the college library [823.09 W334B].

Friday, March 22, 2013

23 March, 1931: Dreams Die Young

On 23rd March, 1931, the British colonial government in India, executed three young men in the dark of the night. Their crime? They were fighting for that which is everybody's birth-right: Freedom.

So many years down the line it is easy to condemn the British for snuffing out three of India's brightest lights: Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru.

 But what about us Indians? Have we really kept a tryst with the ideals that these men died for?

These are the questions that Mridula Garg asks in her novel Anitya. It is one of those books that grab you by the throat and do not let go. They force you to ask questions, however uncomfortable they might be and then compell you to search for answers however unsettling those might be.

Through the story of a group of friends: Avijit, Chadha, Kajal Mukherjee, Saran - all of whom were involved in India's struggle for freedom, Garg examines why our freedom acquired this particular shape. Saran turns into a political leader who wears khadi but takes commission; Chadha continues to stick to the ideals and dies a destitute; Kajal becomes a professor of history but since she focusses on marginalised figures and not mainstream heroes, she finds herself continually being forced out of her job; Avijit compromises with his youthful idealism, marries into comfort and luxury but now finds himself saddled with a hypochondriac wife and a crippling sense of failure and self-disgust.

Where then did we go wrong? Was non-violence really that perfect panacea? Did our reverence for the Mahatma take away our spirit of questioning? In one particular scene, Kajal reads out the last message of Bhagat Singh, written just prior to his death and smuggled out of the jail. Singh extols his fellow comrades to enter into the spirit of questioning. Why he wonders, do our leaders, with the possible exception of Pt. Motilal Nehru, not dare to take any responsibility on their shoulders... and... surrender unconditionally before Gandhi. In spite of their differences, they never oppose him seriously and the resolutions have to be carried for the Mahatma? This unquestioning fidelity is opposed to the very notion of a revolution. Freedom, if it has to come should be such that changes the very nature of this exploitative system and not merely usher in a change of rulers. What difference does it make for a peasant - as Singh so famously asks - if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru replaces Lord Irwin?

Garg's novel shows that yes, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru has replaced Lord Irwin, we Indians govern our own country, have all  the paraphernalia of a free nation: national flag, national emblem, national anthem, a constitution of our own....and yet things have remained the same: corruption, exploitation, poverty, hunger, want...

An eminently readable book, Garg's novel is important because it focusses on the revolutionary ideology in our nationalist discourse. For those who cannot read Hindi, there is good news. The novel has been translated into English: Anitya: Halfway to Nowhere.

Read it even if it is to disagree.

First Line: Das Kadam aage...das kadam peeche...phir aage....peechhe....aage....baar-baar peechhe.

Title: Anitya

Author: Mridula Garg

Publication Details: ND: National Publishing House, 1982

First Published: 1980

Pages: 268

Other books read of the same author: None

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday Memes

Every Tuesday Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where one shares the first paragraph or (2) of a book one has recently read, is reading or thinking about reading soon.  

Here is mine from Georgette Heyer's The Reluctant Widow:

It was dusk when the London to Little Hampton stage-coach lurched into the village of Billingshurst, and a cold mist was beginning to creep knee-high over the dimly seen countryside.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here's mine, again from the same book:

You won't repeat this, Ned, but there's an important memorandum gone astray, and they are all in an uproar over it. By what I can make out, it's to do with his lordship's campaign for this spring, and there are only two copies in existence. You may guess what Bonaparte would give to have an inkling of what Wellington means to do, whether he will march on Madrid a second time, or strike in some new direction. (63-64)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where every Tuesday one has to prepare a list of (10) books on a given topic. This week the question is what are the books that you bought with a great deal of enthusiasm, planning to read them the moment you reached home... but never did.

Here are some of the books that I couldn't wait to get my hands on but which once bought still languish unread on my shelves.

Have you read any of these? How did you find them?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Baker's Dozen: Intriguing Opening Lines

The opening of a book is said to be instrumental in getting a reader's attention. If the opening makes a reader curious than s/he will go on reading. While going through a list of iconic opening lines recently, I came across quite a few that I hadn't read but which made me curious. So here's a list of thirteen books that have immediately gone on my wishlist because of their intriguing opening lines.

So here goes (in no particular order):

1. It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. —Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)

2. Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. —Ha Jin, Waiting (1999)

3. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. —Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)

4. All this happened, more or less. —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

5. The moment one learns English, complications set in. —Felipe Alfau, Cromos (1990)

6.  Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. —Anita Brookner, The Debut (1981)

7.Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. "Stop!" cried the groaning old man at last, "Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree." —Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans (1925)


8.  It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

9. We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. —Louise Erdrich, Tracks (1988)

10. In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street. —David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress (1988)

11.  I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. —W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge (1944)

12.   High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. —David Lodge, Changing Places (1975)

13. Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me. —Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum (1959; trans. Ralph Manheim)


Did these lines arouse your curiousity too? Have you read any of these? Were you too intrigued by the opening sentence? Did the novels fulfill your expectations? Do share.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

For the fans of John Dickson Carr

I have read only three books of John Dickson Carr till date. The high-on-expectations-low-on-delivery The Three Coffins, and He Who Whispers, and the rollickingly-funny-madcap-of-a-mystery The Eight of Swords

However, there are many books of his that I want to read esp. the enigmatically titled The Reader is Warned which he wrote under the pseudonym of Carter Dickson.

On the occasion of his death anniversary which fall on February 27th, his grand-daughter, Shelly Dickson Carr, herself a writer, has written a small piece on her grandfather which can be accessed over here.