Thursday, August 31, 2017

Women in Translation: Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt

Usually, I don't enjoy modern mysteries because I feel the world intrudes too much. Racism, sexism, pedophilia, dysfunctional families become the foci of the novel rather than the murder. However, while reading Simone Van Der Vlugt's Shadow Sister, I was surprised when I became more interested in the problems that a teacher of a school faces rather than the suspense about the killer.




Lydia, one of the narrators of the novels (the other is her twin sister Elisa), is a teacher at Rotterdam College, a school where plenty of students are from Turkey and Morocco. Caught between the cultures, neither integrated nor even fully welcome in Holland, the students can be extremely volatile at times. But even Lydia is shocked when one of them threatens her with a knife. This to her tastes like a personal failure because she has taken the trouble to get close to her students - doing overtime, visiting their homes, attending inter-cultural coaching sessions etc.

This involvement with her work has brought many positive results and the students have started opening up and discussing their problems with her but it also has a downside: her husband, Raoul feels that she is neglecting their little daughter Valerie and would rather have her working part-time in his software company. This has caused quite a bit of friction between the two. Thus, it is to Elisa that Lydia turns for comfort. But is Elisa the right person to turn to?



The novel switches between the two narrative voices and what I loved was how much is revealed through the two voices. Neither of the women is what they assume they are and it is both creepy and funny as the reader gets a glimpse into their personalities. This makes for a very interesting read but the last few chapters feel forced and the identity of the killer is a big let-down.

That disappointment aside, I loved the narration, the sibling relationship, and the description of the problems that can beset a multi-racial institute. I will definitely look for more books by this author.

*

First Line: All of a sudden he's got a knife.



Original Title: Schaduwzuster
Original Language: Dutch
Translator: Michele Hutchison

Publication Details: London: Harper Collins, 2010
First Published: 2005
Pages: 282

Source: Bought @Delhi Book Fair, 2016.





Thursday, August 24, 2017

Forgotten Book: Gossip to the Grave by John Burke

Luke stared up at her. “Running off to construct a dream lover? That’s the way. The only way. Build him yourself.”



Jenny Clark is what we would call a Page-3 reporter in India, somebody who covers parties thrown by the frivolous rich, adds spice and gossip, and hints at scandals. When the novel opens, she is in the doldrums having been jilted by her lover. A throw-away remark by a colleague as to what would be her specifications for an ideal lover makes Jenny not only imagine a man -who is witty, smart, sophisticated, handsome, and fond of P.G. Wodehouse and James Thurber - but also feature him in her gossip columns. She has no idea that the man- whom she names Simon Sherborne - will become the talk of the town and all the women will be dying to invite him to their parties.



“Track him down. If he’s anything like you make him out to be, he could stir up some fun among those corrupt innocents of yours. Somebody,” said Chris hopefully, “might get hurt.”




Things become rough for Jenny when her editor demands a photo of the mysterious Mr. Sherborne and instructs her to take a camera man along to the next social event she covers. Jenny begins to think of taking on a new job or moving back to her parents when at the party a man comes over to her and introduces himself:

She turned. The man from the saleroom was standing above her — six inches above her, that widow’s peak, she estimated...

 The man smiled a slow, broad smile and held out his hand. As she took it she said quietly, to help him: “Actually I’m Jenny Clark.”
 “Ah, yes. My best press officer.”
 “Yours?”
 “I’m Simon Sherborne,” he said.


But unlike the lover whom Jenny had conjured up for herself, this man is more interested in an heiress, Annabel Wager, and pressurizes Jenny to introduce him to her. What game is he playing and how far will Jenny go to keep up the charade?




The novel begins well but soon meanders into forgery, fraud, inheritance issues and loses its way.

Still it was nice to read a novel where there are no mobile phones, where people are not texting or taking selfies of themselves 24/7, and where it is really difficult to contact a person and one has to search for call-phones which have now virtually disappeared.

Also there was this line which I absolutely loved:

She was surprised he didn’t present her with a shorthand pad and four newly sharpened pencils and ask her to take detailed notes of what the police had to say.








It brought back my growing-up years when I'd see college-going bhaiyas and didis with the pads, the yellow-black striped sharp pencils, and Pittman's Shorthand instructor earnestly trying to improve their skills and earn a diploma in shorthand while getting a college degree as it'd give them an edge in their application for government jobs. When I reached college, however,  the shorthand colleges and typing schools were all on their last legs and soon were to close shop forever...

*

First Line: Jenny Clark invented Simon Sherborne one rainy evening in late April.

First Published: 1967
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None

*

Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Review: The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It seemed to me as though the writer was trying too hard: to have every small day-today action assume a philosophical hue. Expected better from the author of The English Patient.

First Line: HE WASN'T TALKING.
Source: Bought in 2014.
Other books read of the same author: In the Skin of a Lion, The English Patient.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reading Challenge: Dread and Read

Earlier this year, I decided to join the Dread and Read challenge @ Hotchpot Cafe which (as the name suggests) challenges us to read the books that are there on our TBR piles but that we dread reading. To make the task easier, our gracious hostess, Jane,  has offered us sweeteners.



What with one thing or the other, however, I quite forgot to write a sign-up post for it. But better late than never and so here I am committing myself to read four books that have been languishing on my shelves. All of them are auto/biographies of Indian freedom fighters.

1. Bandi Jeevan by Sachindranath Sanyal.
2. Aap Beeti by Bhai Parmanand
3. Inquilabi Yatra by Manorma Dewan
4. Lala Lajpat Rai by Feroz Chand


Want to join too? You can sign-up here before the 1st of December.