Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine by Christine Mangan
Title: Tangerine
Author: Christine Mangan
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062686664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Suspense
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I am a sucker for literature in an exotic setting. Also, when it is a thriller that is set in a location so removed. That was the case with “Tangerine”. It is racy, sparse and written the way a noir novel should be – atmospheric, dark and gritty to the bone. Having said that, there are also portions in the book that seem to drag and not go anywhere, but the prose is just as brilliant.

“Tangerine” is a story about Alice Shipley, who has moved to Tangier with her new husband John. Enter, her once upon a time close friend and roommate Lucy Mason who she least expected to see there, given the circumstances in which the fallout occurred. Things but of course go haywire with Lucy’s presence. She is as usual controlling. Alice sees herself dependent on her a lot more. One fine day John suddenly disappears and Alice finds herself questioning everything and everyone around her.

This is the plot of the book. Sure there is more, but I am not going to give any spoilers. The writing has its moments of brilliance and then sometimes you think it isn’t going anywhere, but it redeems itself right back. Mangan creates and builds on an entirely new Tangier in tandem with where the story is set. It is that of the mind – place is again of great importance in Alice’s mind and even Lucy for that matter, which shines through the book.

“Tangirine” when I started reading it felt like just another book that I had read in the past. Thakfully, it wasn’t that. You need to give it a chance past fifty pages for sure for the book to grow on you. It is the kind of book that builds on everything rather slowly, but once it does, it sure does make an impression and stays.

 

 

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That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother Title: That Kind of Mother
Author: Rumaan Alam
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062667601
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Some books grow on you. They take their time for you to also grow on them. “That Kind of Mother” is one such book. It isn’t an easy book to get into. The prose is basic (or so it seems), the writing is simple (never a bad thing in my opinion) and characters are shown in black and white (till there is an outburst of every colour imaginable). Till it isn’t all of that and becomes something else altogether. You see the change coming and yet you do not. You seem prepared and you aren’t. Know what I am talking about? It is exactly that kind of a book.

“That Kind of Mother” is about a white mother who adopts a black son. That is the gist of the book and you know that there are so many angles to explore in the book. Rebecca Stone is a first-time mother and has a lot to learn. She is overwhelmed by her son and hires a nanny who is actually the hospital help, Priscilla Johnson. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly, Rebecca adopts her son. However, she never expected what would it be like to be a white mother to a black soon. She is soon to find out.

What is motherhood? What is it like being a white mother to a black child? Is a mother’s love the same when it comes to her child and the adoptive child? These are the questions that the book tackles throughout. The year is 1985 by the way and Rumaan Alam doesn’t for once hesitate to reveal the layers of racism and discrimination, which were rampant then and nothing has changed now either by the way.

Alam’s prose is heavy at times and easy at most times. There is a sense of dread at the same time – I always thought something awful might happen – that to me is the power of great writing. The one that instantly moves and involves you to a large extent in the book.

“That Kind of Mother” is the book which defines the world we live to some extent. It asks tough questions and discusses the limitations of maternal love in reflection to what the world asks of us. Alam addresses parentage, class, racism, and privilege with great wit and subtle prose and for once doesn’t let the clichés get better of the writing. Read it for all of this but more because of the love between a mother and a child.

 

 

Last Stories by William Trevor

Last Stories Title: Last Stories
Author: William Trevor
Publisher: Viking, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241337769
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Of all that I have read of William Trevor’s work, one thing is certain: There is a sense of magic to his prose. His sentences take you by the hand, lead you on (you give in quite readily as well) and for sure you will never be disappointed. As a reader, you will be at a loss, because you loved every story and that hasn’t happened in a while with a short-story collection. You then realize that you after all read Trevor and make a promise to reread the collection and you do. Nothing sweeter than to honour this kind of a promise.

I am obviously referring to Trevor’s last collection of stories, posthumously published and aptly titled “Last Stories” (though I think to some extent that was very lazy). “Last Stories” is a collection of stories that is mysterious, enigmatic, sparse and yet spot on – the pace of the prose is languid and easy and somehow has the potential to draw you right into it.

Now to the stories. Trevor wrote of common men and women – those who are lost and are struggling to come to terms with life. I think after Alice Munro, Trevor is hands down my second favourite short-story writer. Every story that I have read by him has left a mark on my mind, heart and life.

All through the book what tugged at my heart is loneliness and longing that is consistent in almost every story. “Mrs Crasthorpe” is about a middle-aged widow who is only seeking companionship, only to be rebuffed later on in the story by a widower. It definitely broke my heart and that too with luscious prose at its center. And then there is “The Piano Teacher’s Pupil” which is perhaps the most cheerful story of the collection. Miss Nightingale is the protagonist of this story who has known a bit about disappointment in her life, who in her fifties is almost reminiscing about her sixteen-year-old affair with a married man. Like I said, loneliness and longing are at the heart of every story in this collection and Trevor doesn’t let you forget that.

In “At the Caffe Daria” a wife whose husband left her for her best friend, renews her relationship with friend, after the husband’s death. And then there is “The Unknown Girl” featuring Emily, a housecleaner who commits suicide after speaking of love to the son of the house. William Trevor knows the harshness of the real world and yet somehow his characters never let go of some hope, in whatever way and manner, even in death so to say.

His stories spell disaster, confusion and loss of innocence (if there was any) for his characters. They grow-up but perhaps a little later. Or they also grow-up a little sooner than expected. Life is unfair and unkind to them and yet they are survivors all along. “Last Stories” will remind you of his genius and make you wonder why he had to leave us so soon. A beauty of a book.

 

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book of M Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062669605
Genre: Literary, Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I am ecstatic that I read this book. At the same time, I am devastated that it ended. A book that was dystopian, post-apocalyptic, a romance and even literary at that. I really can’t place it anywhere but it is post-apocalyptic for sure.

The M in the book title could very well stand for Memory as the book is about that and its loss. The world is now the one in which people’s shadows start to disappear, without any reason. The only problem is that their shadow is linked to memory, which means that even memory then goes out of the window. Simple memories are lost – skills to begin with – how to open a door, how to brush one’s teeth, etc. The more complex memories (the ones related to the heart) go right after. The world spins out of control. There is chaos everywhere. Nothing has prepared the world for this and people fear that this is going to be the end after all.

Shepherd’s book is fascinating. It touches on memory so closely that it almost frightens you with the thought: what would you do if you lost your memories? Or were on the road to rapidly losing them? Then what? Memory is something which perhaps we take for granted all the time, till we start forgetting. Shepherd plays on that aspect cleverly throughout the book. Each character is struggling with his or her demons and the beauty is in Shepherd tying all the loose-ends superbly. I normally do not enjoy “battle scenes” (no spoilers really) but in this book I didn’t mind them at all. In fact, if anything, I enjoyed them and Shepherd has written them accurately.

“The Book of M” draws you into its world. You want to know the whys and hows and whens of it all. Peng Shepherd creates characters you feel for intensely and cannot do anything but pray it will all work out for them. I was reminded of Emily St John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” while reading this, primarily because of the emotions and the richness of characters and secondary given both are set in post-apocalyptic worlds.

“The Book of M” is deeply moving. It is daunting as well, given the scope of writing and the setting of the novel. It is one of those books that sneak up on you and become popular through a lot of word-of-mouth, say for instance like “Homegoing”. This one is a firecracker of a read. You must read it. You just must.

 

Foxy Aesop: On the Edge by Suniti Namjoshi

Foxy Aesop Title: Foxy Aesop: On the Edge
Author: Suniti Namjoshi
Publisher: Zubaan
ISBN: 978-9385932427
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Suniti Namjoshi’s books. They are not what you expect or have been conditioned to expect and that’s the primary reason I love what she writes. Her works are heady, over the top, campy even, but above all honest and feminist to the core. She doesn’t mince her words and that’s the only way to write in my opinion. “Foxy Aesop” reminded me of her Fabulist Feminist tales, but more than anything I was drawn into her world so strong that I just didn’t want it to end. Her world is weird (and all weird works for me in more than one way), intriguing and mind you she is one writer who will not let you have it easy. Her prose evokes thoughts but naturally and that’s that.

“Foxy Aesop” to me was everything rolled into one – a fantastical story, a story so quirky that I laughed straight out loud in so many places, a satire as well – something that crescendos into something unusual, only leaving the reader with the hope that she will write something similar. “Foxy Aesop” may suggest that the book is about Aesop, but it is actually about Sprite, a fabulist from the future who transports herself to the century of Aesop and that’s where the book begins. Aesop, on the other hand is busy writing his fables and trying to make ends meet. The book is about fables at the core – what they do to the moral fabric of our society and do they play any role in it at all or not. Sprite and Aesop make for delightful characters in this fantastical piece by Namjoshi.

Namjoshi’s writing is irreverent and that is another quality I love about her prose. She has literally taken the concept of fables and turned it on its head. She makes you rethink and evaluate those morals all over again in light of our world and what we think of them at all – if we do that is.

“Foxy Aesop” is a book that is witty, unusual, full of quirk and life. Suniti Namjoshi has done it again, as always, and not just in storytelling but creating it in a dimension probably unheard of to many. Read it for its fabulousness. Just go read it.