Daily Archives: May 26, 2012

Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Title: Of Mice and Men
Author: John Steinbeck
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0142000670
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 107
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck is the kind of book that fills you with hope, makes it stay for a while and then reveals the true nature of men and the world we live in, shattering the hope that it started off with.

I had heard a lot about this book and also own it. (It is there somewhere. I cannot seem to find it though.) I thought I would eventually read it and I did not tell I borrowed a copy from the library and finished it in a single sitting. If you do decide not to read it in a single sitting, take it from me, this book will haunt you. It will not let you be till you have completed it. Now to the plot.

Of Mice and Men is the story of two alienated men who work as farm labourers, drifting from job to job in California. Lennie is a gentle giant (who is a little slow). George guides and protects him and depends on him for companionship. They dream of owning a farm one day and tend rabbits. This however is not meant to be. They arrive at a new farm; work with new people, make friends, till the owner’s son’s Curley’s wife ruins it all for them.

The title of the book is from a poem by Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”, which goes: “The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!” Steinbeck draws on these lines in the book very subtly, making sure that the plans do not go as they dreamt of, because after all that is the story.

The narrative is strong and descriptive as is the case in most books written by him. I remember reading East of Eden in a period of two days. I just could not get off the book. Of Mice and Men flows with dialogue and action. The scenes happen so quickly in the book that it sometimes takes the reader by surprise.

You feel sorry for the men. You want them to achieve what they wanted and you know that will not be possible. The writing is so strong that you empathize with them and that’s how a book should be written. The plot is complex but the writing is not and that’s the wonder of the book. Steinbeck almost structured the novel as a play and may be that is why it has been so easy to convert it to play and three movies I guess.

Steinbeck depicts the impossibility of dreams being achieved and explores brotherhoods in humans – the strengths, the weakness in man and sometimes the angst. Of Mice and Men is a classic in every sense that should not be missed. I am glad that I finally read it.

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Here is the trailer of the movie starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise:

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Book Review: Everything You Know by Zoe Heller

Title: Everything You Know
Author: Zoe Heller
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1-250-00374-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 203
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There is always a good time to take you out of the reader’s block situation and for me that book in the recent past was “Everything you Know” by Zoe Heller. I remember the one and only book I had read by her earlier – Notes on a Scandal, which I was enthralled by. The writing style, the setting and the plot of the book was beyond great.

Zoe Heller’s book, “Everything you Know” is actually the first one written by her and I was not surprised by the beauty of the language at all. It just gave me an idea of the lucidity that came through in Notes on a Scandal. Everything you Know is about Willy Muller and his life. Willy Muller is an unusual character, someone who you might meet and stop and think about. He could be distasteful and yet he is just like you and I in most ways.

Willy Muller is recuperating from a heart attack in Mexico, and trying very hard to write a script of a celebrity’s memoirs – the writer’s block emerges and he cannot write. His girlfriend Penny, one of the plastically enhanced women and not too bright, is with him. One fine day he receives a call from his sister in England, informing him that their mother is dead. He rushes to England and the ghosts of the past haunt him all over again. Willy had to leave England with a bad reputation of being indicted for killing his wife in a domestic fight. He appeals and is set free. His daughters think he was responsible for their mother’s death. The second daughter commits suicide and leaves a diary. But of course Willy reads it and his life begins to unravel – one piece at a time. His answers and his questions merge and he wonders more, seeking answers, finding a way to live.

It is not easy to write a novel of this kind and accommodate everything in less than 300 pages. The writing is in your face and doesn’t let up for a single bit. Knowing the plot, it is depressive at times, but a fantastic read. Zoe Heller uses her craft very intelligently – without giving away too much and making readers think for themselves.

This is just one example of her superlative writing: “If I am a shit, I used to tell myself defiantly in those days, so be it.”

Zoe Heller has a linear style of writing. The jumping of past to present and back is sometimes overwhelming but works for the plot in most ways. The dialogues are perfectly tuned to the plot, the supporting characters play their part when needed fantastically and the plot is something else – from madness to crime to getting a grip on reality. Everything You Know is a great read that tells a lot about the human condition and the answers we seek, when sometimes they are right there in front of us.

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