Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Newton Letter by John Banville

I had borrowed this book from the library a long long time ago and I somehow happened to pick it up after like 3 books and read it in a span of two days! This was the first time I was venturing to read a Banville and thank god, I did decide to pick it up. A short novella – around 97 pages and riveting!

This book is a letter written by the narrator – who is nameless and has entered the Irish countryside to finish his book on Newton only to discover and re-discover his own denied passions and emotions. His cottage is situated in a place called Fern house where he encounters a strange lot of people – Edward, Charlotte, Edward’s Sister Diana and her husband Tom, Ottilie – Charlotte’s so-called niece and little Michael. As the narrator gets engrossed in their lives, he loses focus of the book, only to drown it. This is a classic juxtaposition of how Newton one fine day gave up on science and took to alchemy.

This book is one of a kind and when I say this, I really mean it. Banville conjures a mystery, a love story, a discovery sometimes and beauty of language so rare these days in most novels – and where else can one find such a combination and being told in 97 pages!! Wow!!

Mad Mad Love

I do not know when or why I fell in love with books, however I did and now there is no turning back. It is like time. I can never look back and what has passed has come to passed and there is nothing I can do to undo it. I look at the number of books I own (close to 4000) and I am appalled. I really am. As to how less these books are. As to how I can add to my collection. As to how the house needs more shelves and the lack of space thereof. Books are strewn all over the place. In the living room. In the bedroom. In my mother’s room. In the kitchen also I think. Under the bed. On the shelves of course. Just about everywhere.

The love for books is something which cannot be explained and yet I attempt to. The thought of picking up a new book. The idea of smelling it. The pure magical experience of imagining a book and its characters and the setting as you read it. What other hobby or what other passion could take you to a different land without getting up from your arm-chair?

Books have also played a critical role in my life. There have been times I have not met men for a date since they were not readers. I wanted my very own Roark and if I was in a wild mood, then I needed a Heathcliff. Sometimes I wanted to become Catherine and others I was satisfied in being Oliver Twist, just to know what it would be like to be an orphan. I wanted to be loved like Miu from Sputnik Sweeheart (happens to be my favourite book). I wanted to experience an adventure like the one in Treasure Island. I want Edward McCullen to hold me in his arms and sing me a lullaby. Enough of the ranting already. My point is this: Why aren’t there more readers in my country?

Well that has also changed, thanks to the likes of Dan Brown and Chetan Bhagat (shudder shiver!). I wonder how people read them. Yes I admit. I am a literary snob (though I have had my share of Shobha De and Jackie Collins as well). I remember the time I was introduced to reading. I was 5 and was gifted an Enid Blyton by my mother. I have not stopped reading since then. My neices and nephews are 6 and 5 years old and they do not know of Enid Blyton. They never will. I hope they do. I tried to introduce them to her magical world but in vain. They did not try reading what I had gifted. I was sad and then somewhere down the line I let them be.

I am so glad that my man reads. He reads a lot and may be would like to read even more. Just that he does not get the time. My mother reads and so does my sister. I think we are a very different species. The species who reads. I know of so many of my friends who read and I love them for it. I love you my books. This is one love that will never end.

As Virginia Woolf says,  

The true reason remains the inscrutable one – we get pleasure from reading. It is a complex pleasure and a difficult pleasure; it varies from age to age and from book to book. But that pleasure is enough. Indeed that pleasure is so great that one cannot doubt that without it the world would be a far different and a far inferior place from what it is. Reading has changed the world and continues to change it. When the day of judgment comes therefore and all secrets are laid bare, we shall not be surprised to learn that the reason why we have grown from apes to men, and left our caves and dropped our bows and arrows and sat round the fire and talked and given to the poor and helped the sick – the reason why we have made shelter and society out of the wastes of the desert and the tangle of the jungle is simply this – we have loved reading.

Currently Reading

So I bought a new copy of “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen as mine has come of age. The binding is in two with pages strewn all over the place once I even attempt to open the book. So now that I have a brand new copy I am re-reading it and loving it as much as I did while reading it 4 times before! Love this classic…

The next book that I am reading with “Mansfield Park” is “The Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It is the Mahabharata told from Draupadi’s perspective and till now it is going great! Can’t wait to finish these two…

My First Book Meme – The ABC Book Meme

Yay!! This is a meme copied from Rhapsody and only because I loved it..

For this meme, you list a favorite book that starts with each letter of the alphabet. If you don’t have a book for a letter (such as Z or X) than you can substitute a favorite book that simply has that letter in the title (ex. The Lost City of Z or Hot Six by Janet Evanovich). However, you can only do this a maximum of 3 times. (Z, X, and Q. But not Z, X, Q, and V.) Books can be of any genre from fiction to non-fiction to poetry to textbooks.

This is a difficult task to fulfill, because obviously some letters, like S and T, have many books that might be favorites, whereas others, like Q and X are unlikely to present you with difficulties making a choice. I have chosen Fiction:

A: After the Quake: Stories by Haruki Murakami
B:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
C:  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
D: Difficult Loves by Italo Calvino
E: Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
F: Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen
G: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
H: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
I: In Custody by Anita Desai
J: Justine by Lawrence Durrell
K: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
L: Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec
M: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
N: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
O: Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
P: Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
Q: Quicksand by Junichiro Tanizaki
R: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
S: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
T: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
U: Underground by Haruki Murakami
V: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
W: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
X: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Y: Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates
Z: Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

So that’s the end of my first book meme and who do I pass this to? Well to everyone who visits my blog…Happy meme’ing…

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Rohinton Mistry manages to bring forth the horror and devastation wreaked by the Emergency in all its vividness through ‘A Fine Balance’. The novel is both a commentary on the political and social environment of the time as well as a beautiful tragedy.

The story is based in 1975 in an unidentified city near the sea in India, riddled with poverty and teeming with beggars. Mistry places four pivotal characters in this squalid city. Mrs. Dina Dalal, 40-ish, poor and widowed after only three years of marriage. Determined to remain financially independent and to avoid a second marriage, she takes in a boarder and two Hindu tailors to sew dresses for an export company. Maneck is the son of an old school friend of Dina’s who has been sent to college because the family business is failing; and the two tailors are Ishvar and his nephew Om, who have left their village in an effort to escape the repressive caste system.

The novel revolves around the interactions between these four characters. Their dreams and ambitions and the trials that they must face in life in order to achieve these. For four months, these four characters become a family. Eating and sleeping together, sharing their dreams, meals and living space. Their relationships with each other transcend inter-caste problems and barriers of caste, religion and monetary status. The cramped apartment becomes a haven from the political and social turmoil of the time. The four face various unpleasant encounters and are repeatedly saved from these by a quaint character, the Beggarmaster. The backdrop of the novel through all this is the Emergency period and the callousness of Indira Gandhi’s government.

After lulling us into a false sense of contentment and security, we are reminded of the turmoil in the outside world by sudden tragedy which envelopes the lives of these four characters. On a visit back home, Om and Ishvar are forcibly sterilized; Maneck, devastated by the murder of an activist classmate, goes abroad. Dina who is unaware of all this is suddenly left all alone. She has no inkling of what has happened to the tailors and does not know why they do not come back from the village. Her immediate reaction is that once again she has been let down by people she has placed her trust in. Dina and the tailors carry on with their lives through all this because they have learnt “to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair”.

Mistry manages to relate the cruelty faced by innocents and untouchables when a “State of Internal Emergency” is declared. The characters are used to represent people from all walks of life in India. The tailors are representative of villagers. Dina Dalal, is living in urban India. The young boy is representative of the youth of India. Through their experiences we realize the implications of a repressive caste system, an intrusive and hostile government and other adversities that must have existed in the India of the seventies.

Mistry also manages to maintain a fine balance of his own. He blends bad luck with a dash of hope, egging us on – only to dash our expectations with a new set of conflicts and troubles. There is always a silver lining for his characters. He creates a masterpiece that is Dickensian in its sympathy for the poor while combining it with a celebration of the indomitable spirit of human desire and hope as well as the despair of unfulfilled dreams. The novel is a symphony of corruption, cruelty, hope, desire, kindness and despair.