Monthly Archives: December 2011

Book Review: First Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: First Love: A Gothic Tale
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco Books, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780880014571
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 86
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

Life is cruel and loneliness is its master. Josie learns this soon enough. This is the story of a bewildered eleven-year old who only wants to be loved by the people around her and fails getting it. Oates wrote this novella in 1996 and though I only read it now, it still seems fresh, even after fifteen years.

The background of the novella is that Josie’s mother left her husband and has now moved to another state to live with her mother’s cousin. Josie’s mother drifts away in a new town – new men to date and new jobs to explore, leaving Josie all alone to explore the lay of the land. Her 25-year old cousin Jared is studying to be a minister. She meets him and a sordid love story (or not) takes place. He has his own demons to conquer (or he is unable to) and he enjoys the dominance he displays using her as the bait. Her naïve eleven-year old mind mistakes this for love.

There are sub-texts and layers of sexual references and the reader senses sexual abuse and yet Josie is not the one without a conscience. After being asked to commit a horrendous crime and refusing it, Jared blocks Josie out of his life. The family crumbles. Delia S (Josie’s mother) takes off in her own direction and path, paying very little attention to her daughter. The great-aunt is bed-ridden and Jared goes on back to the seminary to complete his studies. This is when Josie finds her freedom and her will to live.

On the surface, it seems a pretty simple novella to understand and garner, however it is not the case. As I said earlier, there are sub-texts to the novella – mostly loneliness, alienation, of sexual awakening, incest, and of knowing what love is not.

Joyce Carol Oates is the mistress of her craft. What most authors cannot manage in 500 pages, she does in 86 pages and quite convincingly though. At no point did I want to know more or did I feel there was more to be said once I finished this novella. The adage to the title of “A Gothic Tale” could not be any truer. It is a gothic tale – both in its atmosphere and its storyline. The book is raw and not apologetic about it. I would not recommend it to people with faint hearts, however I highly recommend it nonetheless.

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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
ISBN: 9781594744761
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

To write a review of a book that is so unusual is a daunting task in itself and yet I want to, only because I want more people to read what I have finished reading and loved. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has stayed with me since the past four days and I have loved every minute of reading this fascinating novel. I stretched it to four days only because I didn’t want it to end so soon and yet it had to. Let me now tell you something about the book.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children as the title suggests is centered on a home for peculiar children in Wales on an isolated island in 1940 during the World War II – children who were abandoned by their parents or wards. One of the children manages to leave the home and starts a normal family in America. Abraham Portman is old and claims to see monsters. His son and daughter do not believe him and carry on with their lives and their families. His grandson Jacob Portman wants to believe his grandfather’s stories and yet they seem too bizarre to be believed, even though as a child his grandfather supported the peculiar children’s stories with pictures.

Few days before turning sixteen, Jacob witnesses the death of his grandfather outside his house, claiming to be killed by a monster, and asking Jacob to find, “the bird, on the other side of the grave”. Encouraged by his psychiatrist Jacob takes on a journey to the island – years after – hoping to find something of his grandfather’s past only to encounter nothing. This is not it. He does find something. Something exciting and shocking, which obviously I cannot reveal in the review. That is for you to read and find out.

This book is a treat. It stayed with me for a very long time till I picked it up and read it hungrily. The book mixes fiction with photography brilliantly and it is one of those books that cannot be read on a Kindle or a Nook. It deserves the stature of a read late into the night, where sometimes it scares you as well, in parts. What I think every reader will love in this book are the photographs of the children, of the house, of Miss Peregrine and of almost everything that propels the story.

The writing is brilliant – Ransom Riggs ensures the necessary elements are brought together perfectly – the characters, the plot and the photographs merge beautifully. I recommended the book while reading it and am recommending it now. It is a book that you shouldn’t miss. Thank you Quirk books for publishing it. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has to one of my favourite books this year and I am sure there is a sequel waiting in line.

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Book Review: The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

Title: The Death-Ray
Author: Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0224094115
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 48
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Daniel Clowes never ceases to amaze me with his graphic novels. He is brilliant and while I say that for most authors who I read, Mr. Clowes is truly the master of graphic storytelling. I remember reading, ‘Ghost Girl’ with such fascination when I first laid my hands on it and then I was marveled by, ‘Wilson’, only to be enthralled by his latest book, ‘The Death-Ray’.

‘The Death-Ray’ focuses on Andy, a lonely boy growing up in the 70s who has one friend and is being raised by his grandfather who is likely to develop Alzheimer’s. One day while smoking a cigarette by chance, Andy discovers that nicotine activates his super-powers where he gains super strength. Coupled with that is his father’s legacy – a handheld, “death ray” that can eliminate people. This turns Andy from being an awkward teen to having the power of life and death in his hand.

The book follows the story of Andy and his friend Louie as they try to find their place in the world. They go through their phases – of picking on bullies, on people who do wrong and people who according to them deserve the death-ray experience. The plot is simple, but things get complex and more difficult to understand when Andy grows up. There was a point in time when I felt bad for Andy and his way of life, however then I realized that some people are just made for this – to go through life, pass by and experience it.

There are no spoilers in the review as the book needs to be experienced by readers. The writing is strong and Daniel Clowes as always touches upon the themes of loneliness and angst in a surreal manner. The Death-Ray is one of the best Graphic novels I have read this year. Read it!

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Book Review: Sold by Patricia McCormick

Title: Sold
Author: Patricia McCormick
Publisher: Pan India
ISBN: 978-1406334050
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 263
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Sold is an account of a young Nepalese girl, Lakshmi who is sold into the sex trade in India by her family for the sole reason – Money. Patricia McCormick writes the book with great sensitivity and at the same does not let go of the bigger picture. The book is told through the eyes of Lakshmi – a thirteen year old, her beliefs (if any), her thoughts and her emotional sense of being, on understanding what she has been sold into.

Sold is written in free verse form and that is what makes it even more heartbreaking, because it is the sad poetry of life that comes through the pages. I had thought I had read enough already about the sex trade in India; however I was proved wrong after reading Sold.

The horrors of the flesh trade come alive in this book and that is most disturbing. As humans, we think we can handle almost everything, well certainly not a thirteen year old talking about how she was drugged and made to sleep with strangers.

I don’t know if this book can be recommended for young adults, and at the same time considering what they watch and see anyway, I guess they can read this book. McCormick’s writing is stark and raw. She doesn’t mince her words and one is not expected to while writing about a topic this sensitive. The story is heartbreaking and yet sometimes uplifting as Lakshmi shows courage to maintain her identity and survive her ordeal.

Such stories stay on and linger with you, even if you cannot do anything about the situation. We will never know what it is to live like Lakshmi did. The empathy will never be lost, hopefully. The book definitely widens the scope of what we know and what we chose to ignore and for that reason alone, I urge you to read this book.

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Book Review: The Man Who Would Be Queen: Autobiographical Fictions by Hoshang Merchant

Title: The Man Who Would Be Queen: Autobiographical Fictions
Author: Hoshang Merchant
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143064862
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Man Who Would Be Queen by Hoshang Merchant struck a chord. I mean it had to, after all I am as gay as him and what was chronicled in this book, made me also look back on my life till now. The book is a collection of lyrical essays on the self that flaunts itself as being autobiographical in nature. The good thing is that the book doesn’t speak only about being gay. It also covers the poetic ground, after all Mr. Merchant is a poet first and that is quite evident in the pieces collected here.

Hoshang Merchant is not trying to rev things up or trying to create a storm in a teacup. These essays are just his way of acknowledging the life he has led and the years that are about to be lived. He speaks of topics that are varied – the moon, The Taj Mahal, infidelity, love, passion, broken hearts, his homosexual room-mate, and his poetry. He speaks of his friendships with women whose husbands were homo-phobic and chauvinistic – I mean all gay men have gone that road – in some form or the other and this book just states it. Finally he also speaks of why he writes and what it means to him in, “Garden of Bliss” which according to me every young writer needs to read.

I did not have any questions while reading this book. It is crystal clear in its writing and the ethos is felt because it comes out to be an honest book and written from the heart. Hoshang merges prose with poetry beautifully and that is the highlight of the book.

The resilience needed in the face of tragedy and the need to go on living, no matter what, is what I have personally gathered from this book. Read the book without biases and it can make you think – a lot and also feel.

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