Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Title: Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors 
Author: Aravind Jayan
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail 
ISBN: 9781788169868
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction 
Pages: 208 
Source: Publisher 
Raring: 4/5

There is a quiet desperation to small towns. You do not know or understand it till you live in one of them – a small town, a small city, or when you are living inside your head for way too long. But more than that, there is always the desperation seen in families – not so quiet, not so loud, just the right kind of simpering, of yearning, and of grudges that fester and fester over time. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan is a book about so much that I find it difficult to pinpoint what it really is about. Jayan packs it all in 200 pages, and gives you a family stuck in time, its members grasping at the last straws of connect, of indifference even, of anything that makes them family, only to have drifted in their own different orbits, wandering, trying so hard to make it back home. 

The plot is about a couple whose video of making out or having sex is secretly filmed and is all over the Internet, and how they and their families deal with it. Amma and Appa have no names. The girl’s parents are just Anita’s mother and father. The boy is Sreenath. The boy’s brother, the narrator of the story is also nameless. In such cases, it is the names of the couple that are hidden. Jayan gives them agency to not be answerable to anyone. This is small-town India, this is a scandal, and then there is the question of family and society, that Jayan handles with humour, dryness, matter-of-fact, and making us aware of the hypocrisies that at the heart of the narrative. 

The narrator – the younger brother – who is only twenty, takes on the role of telling things the way they happened – from the discovery of the video, to when the story begins of the family buying a Honda Civic – a car that was meant to be a status symbol, and by the end of the story is nothing but a bad reminder of what took place after. The narrator wants so badly for things to work out – for his family to get together the way it was – anything that is normal – anything that wasn’t. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors reads like a newspaper headline – the one that gives incorrect details – the one that only wants to be sensational and malignant, and malicious at best. There is so much to talk about that goes on this novel – it is also a coming of age novel, a novel where time doesn’t matter – it exists as a plot point but never as a measure of things – never as a stock-taker, as though there is no stock of emotions. That’s another thing about this slim wondrous novel – emotions are deep-seated and multi-layered. Nothing is in your face, nothing is dramatic, and even if it is – it is just maudlin at best – forced and fake. 

Jayan’s writing is refreshing – it is incisive, matter-of-fact, funny in so many places, astonishingly lucid, and makes no bones about what the family is going through. There is no sentimentality in his writing. It is life – it happens, and that’s what I got from it. Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors is a reflection of so much in the societies we inhabit and yet doesn’t become preachy at all. It is refreshing like cold lemonade on a hot day, yet infusing the claustrophobia of the day – of the perspiration on your back, of sweat patches under the arms – visible to all, no matter how hard you try to hide them.

 

Read 113 of 2022: Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Title: Be My Guest
Author: Priya Basil
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786898494
Genre: Nonfiction, Food writing
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Basil in this slim book of food and hospitality speaks of what it is like to host people – to bond through food, the emotions that are deep-rooted in the act of cooking and feeding, and eating, and how do we connect through food. “Be My Guest” is a fascinating brief account of food beyond communities, of food within communities and its importance, of how Basil looks at food from every angle – that of domesticity, immigration, climate change, religion, food waste, and even Brexit.

Basil’s writing may seem concentrated, but it is widespread and expansive in the sense of it looking at the self with the world at large through food. What I loved is how she weaves in the concept of how hospitality can change the world – through empathy, kindness, and how it all begins at one’s kitchen table, and how it all must be unconditional at the end of the day.

She also speaks of alienation through food, of not feeling wanted, of what it takes to be inclusive and in turn lets the reader gaze into her personal life – that of her grandparents and how their lives were so integral to food and feeding.

The larger meanings of food, the rituals around it (unique to each household and individual), the refugee crisis going on in the world at large, and how food unites is all as strangers is at the heart of Be My Guest. Basil invites you to open your heart through food, through serving, by understanding the meaning of hosting, of eating together, of letting people know that there will always be a seat for them at your table, and how it is in the devotion of serving, you take the idea of grace, hospitality, and warmth from paper to the table, right down to not only filling one’s stomach but heart and soul as well.

Read 112 of 2022. Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Title: Pure Colour
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374603946
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have found my second best book of the year (the first one being After Sappho),  and I say this with most confidence, happiness, joy, and sheer pleasure, that it is, Pure Colour by Sheila Heti.

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti is the kind of book that has no start, perhaps no middle, and maybe no apparent end as well, but oh God does it hurt when you are done reading the book. It shines brightly, it is therapeutic, it heals, makes you cry, speaks of the world, and makes you believe (and is the truth) that it is your story unfolding, with art and books at the center of it, and the way we live today.

Love is at the core of this book. Whether it is between Mira and Annie, or Mira and her father, or between people who haven’t met each other yet, or people who have been living with each other for decades, Heti speaks of love most delicately. She also brings to fore with her writing love of different kinds, of different textures that might hurt, of love that transcends time, and bodies, and might compel you to follow the one you love in the body of a leaf. Sheila is a stupendous, unafraid, and a writer that must be read at any cost.

Pure Colour is about the state of civilisation, it is about a woman joining her dead father on another plane of being and existence, it is about art and its critics, about what we hold close and what we are willing to let go of – perhaps it is also earnest at times, but it worked for me, because I was willing to overlook that aspect of the novel.

Sheila Heti’s writing reminds me of Murdoch – of her kind of philosophy that always took the worldwide look – the angle of being and existing together – when she speaks of nostalgia, and how it was before the Internet, you cannot put the book down. When she constructs sentences like “there were so many ways of being hated, and one could be hated by so many people”, you nod, because we have all witnessed that – this kind of writing makes you want to read this book cover to cover and gift it to a friend or a couple of friends and beg them to devour it.

Pure Colour is a mad book. It is a book of our times. It is a book that is crazy, original, empathetic, unafraid, bold, and above all is mindful of the fact that we are all humans, and maybe we all hurt the same.

Read 111 of 2022. These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy. Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor

These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy

Title: These Possible Lives: Essays
Author: Fleur Jaeggy
Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor
Publisher: New Directions Books
ISBN: 9780811226875
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 64
Source: The Boxwalla
Rating: 5/5

This short luminous book consists of three essays of these lives – Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob. These writers, whose lives were brief, but perhaps full – each life ultimately centred on death by the author.

Jaeggy’s brevity shines on each page. She doesn’t find the need to ramble on about each of them – saying what she must, and does so with great simplicity, sometimes wit, straightforwardness, and for some maybe not enough, but worked beautifully for me.

The biographies (if I can call them that) extend themselves most naturally to the subjects’ habits, physicality, to their friends, their lives, and finally leading all to death. There is so much going on in these essays, using history, masculinity, the violence, and melancholy that runs throughout. Proctor’s translation makes it even more lyrical, though fragmented, disjointed, and surreal – reading as prose poems more than anything.

They draw you in, and I am sure I will read more about these lives in days to come. These Possible Lives is a short treat for readers – meditative and emotional.

Read 110 of 2022. Bolla by Pajtim Statovci. Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston.

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci

Title: Bolla
Author: Pajtim Statovci
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 9781524749200
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I finished reading Bolla at a time when I am most disillusioned by love – more so when it comes to same-gender love. I am confused, whether it exists or not, whether it is possible for forever together, and happiness to be possible. If anything at all, can two men love each other? Can they truly love each other?

I am not going to say that Bolla answered these questions of mine, because they are too vague, and perhaps not to nuanced to be met with answers anyway. But what Bolla did was, it reaffirmed the fact that love isn’t easy, neither is it as simple as it seems on paper, nor is it moral, and almost never in sync with what you expect.

Bolla is a story beyond two men and their loves and lives. It is also the story of conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians, the Kosovo war, what happens to people torn by war, and in all of this – it is a story of self, identity, the confusion that rises from finding yourself, and the lengths one will go to, to do that.

Bolla makes you go through a series of emotions – from love, to lust, to wanting what the two men have, to not want it at all, to getting angry at one of them because of his choices, and perhaps then understanding his state of being, mind, and heart. You pick sides while reading this book, and then you don’t.

As a reader, I was overwhelmed in the beginning, angry at mid-point, sad right through the read, judgmental, and then wasn’t because you don’t take sides in a story where there are so many blurred lines. At some point, reading the journal entries of Miloš, I couldn’t tell if the narrator was then reliable or not.

Statovci is a genius. A master who doesn’t believe in telling all, neither does he show all. It is a beautiful balance of the two – a lyrical meditation on what we lose, how we gain, and what remains in the end.

Bolla is about self-loathing, how much are we willing to be honest to ourselves, and at what cost – it is about affairs and lives cut short, about the selfish nature of living, and all of this comes together so alive and beautiful only because of David Hackston’s most wondrous translation (whose name I wish was on the cover) from the original Finnish. Hackston never once made me feel that I was reading a translation. It was so clear, lucid, and made me feel everything that perhaps Statovci intended his readers to feel.

Bolla will not leave me very soon. It has nestled and made way inside my heart, like a snake – the mythical being the story refers and comes back to again and again. It is intimate, raw, questioning our endurance, how we don’t sometimes want the past to merge with our present, of how intertwined they all are, and above all it is about being graceful, tender, and learning to love and forgive ourselves, so we can perhaps heal.