Category Archives: 100 Must-Read Novellas

Dangerlok by Eunice De Souza

Dangerlok by Eunice De Souza Title: Dangerlok
Author: Eunice De Souza
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143065074
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 166
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

I remember reading Dangerlok a long time ago and being so moved by it. Nothing was different this time around as well. I felt more, if not the same. Eunice De Souza, being the poet, she was makes you see the way sentences can be strung together and how poetically prose can be handled. I think this is true of most writers I have read who are poets first and then writers of prose. Having said that, I think everyone who is from Bombay or not, should read Dangerlok. It encapsulates the city like no other I’ve read set in the city.

Eunice’s Dangerlok is precise, exact, and doesn’t waste time. Its brevity astounds and makes you understand that a book need not be lengthy to say what it has to. So, what is Dangerlok about?

Dangerlok is Mumbai – the swirl, the scum, the acid aftertaste, the lingering, the seductive city who lures you and then enters your head and heart like a disease. And in between all this stands the protagonist, Rina Ferreira (positively modelled after Eunice) who is an English Literature Teacher, who lives in Santacruz East with her two parrots – Totha and Tothi and her hoard of books, writing letters to David (a man who she once loved and may be still does), enjoying a casual cab ride, observing her neighbours, friends, cabwallahs, the existence of them all and the humour and irony behind things that seem so little and normal on an average day. She comes across Dangerlok on a daily basis while smoking her cigarettes and drinking her jungli tea. She observes. She notices and dashes off letters to David about the world that surrounds her.

I cannot put a finger on what I felt while reading this book – I loved it to such a great extent. It was the description of the small things – Totha sitting on her head as she opens the door to a neighbour, the memory of having bought David Copperfield for four bucks, her worry over her parrots and hence she does not leave the city for long, the fact that she does not want to be “involved in life” and yet her heart goes out to the stray pup, nutty clerks at the post office who refuse to acknowledge, and many such instances. De Souza gives Rina her space to play, her canvas to paint and yet it’s sad that the canvas is only a mere 124-page long novella. It makes you yearn for more. There is ennui and there is hope. But you better watch out, because chances of seeing Dangerlok everywhere around you are not that slim.

 

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn Title: Bottled Goods
Author: Sophie Van Llewyn
Publisher: Fairlight Books
ISBN: 978-1912054305
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 190
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I have read almost more than half of the Women’s Prize longlist of this year, and hands down this is one of the top 3 favourites of mine. Bottled Goods is the kind of book that makes you contemplate and ruminate over life and its dynamics at the end of every chapter almost, which doesn’t happen very often when you read a book. Bottled Goods wrenches you and takes you to a place where you start wondering about good and bad, right and wrong, and the need to want to leave your home and yet stay.

The book is set in communist Romania and at the heart of it is Alina living with her husband, Liviu, quite satisfied, with her head down and going about her life. This is all well and good till her brother-in-law defects to the West and she and her husband come in the eye of secret service. There is torture from the agents – emotional, mental, and physical, eventually taking a toll on their marriage. In all of this enters Alina’s aunt Therese who can help her escape the country through the old folk ways.

Van Llewyn writes brilliantly and with great brevity. No word or sentence is out of place. Whether she is talking about Alina’s rocky relationship with her mother, husband, or country, everything is just perfect. I never thought I needed more to hit home. I have not read any book with Romania as a setting so far, and I am only intrigued to know more about it in the time of Ceausescu and what did normal folk go through, living day by day.

Bottled Goods as the title has so many meanings to it. The yearning to get out – as if you are bottled goods itself, the meaning of not being able to take bottled goods out of the country, or even aspirations when it comes to perfume or bottles of aerated drinks that aren’t accessible. The atmosphere of the book is spot-on. Llewyn manages to create tension and menace right throughout the book, infused with humour, regret, and rumination over what has been lost.

Bottled Goods is the kind of book that opens your world to what was going on in the world and does it delicately, at the same time not sparing any details. The characters are rounded, and communist Romania emerges very strongly as another character. For me, the magical elements were magical, and I did not consider them to be metaphors (though some readers could). Overall, I am hooting for it to win, only because it is something so different, empathetic, real, and more than anything else written with great finesse and style.

Fox 8 by George Saunders. Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal

Fox 8 by George Saunders Title: Fox 8
Author: George Saunders
Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1526606488
Genre: Satire, Fiction, Fable for Adults
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There are some books that just nestle into your heart and stay there. For me, those have been the likes of An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. You get the drift, don’t you? These are the kind of books that can be read to soothe me, when I am feeling down. I am certain we all have these kind of books – the ones that make everything alright, just by opening them and reading – over and over again. Fox 8 by George Saunders is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of “heartwarming” books. (I hate the use of the word heartwarming, my apologies).

I love Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo though is my least favourite book written by him, though it won the Man Booker Prize and all that). His short fiction is par excellence, his essays even better in my opinion, and basically whatever he writes is pure gold. Fox 8 is no less of a book because of its size. If anything, after you are done reading it, you tend to agree that it had to end, where it did, even if you wanted more of it.

Fox 8 - Image 1

Read more: In Appreciation of George Saunders

This 64-page novella/novelette is about a fox – the name is Fox 8 who is curious about humans (poor sad fox. I for one can’t stand most humans) and also learns some of the English language, by watching parents read to their children (I love how the fox also debunks fairy tales for us with reference to the role of the fox in them). Saunders is in his full form with inventiveness of language – writing (phonetically) the way a fox would – yooman and not human, bare and not bear, and the list goes on. At first, you wonder about the writing style and when you give in, you are in love with this fantastical tale of two foxes visiting a mall (that has been built razing most of their forest) and what happens next.

Fox 8 - Image 2Read more: George Saunders’s 10 Favourite Books

Before I forget, kudos and more to Chelsea Cardinal for the illustrations that go so well with the story. The illustrations are all black and white, except the foxes – they are in orange and stunning would perhaps be a lesser adjective to use. Saunders’ story is telling of our times – of the way we inhabit spaces and make of them to how endangered our wild life really is – and all of this is said with the eccentric and almost witty (in this one at least), true blue Saunders style.

Fox 8 is heartwarming, also heart-wrenching, makes you look at the world we have made and why and question almost every decision – which I think we must. At the same time, it makes a spot in your heart and will not go away. I am very happy that it was the first read of the year for me. Read it. It is truly beautifully done.

You can buy Fox 8 by George Saunders here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Appreciation of Saunders

george-saunders

Ever since I have read George Saunders I have been in awe of his writing. I may not have enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo the way I thought I would, but that’s hardly of concern when it comes to appreciating Saunders’ works. I think the beauty of Saunders beside the writing, is his capacity to create characters that are regular – they are flawed, broken, and perhaps have no capacity to be extraordinary and yet strangely enough they are.

Also, might I add the skill with which he writes or rather crafts a story. After Munro, if there is any other short-story writer I truly admire, it is him. Whether it is the idea of the fantastical merging with everyday living, or just the irony of getting through the day, Saunders literally saves a reading-slump-kind-of-day. You just have to read any short story written by him and it is worth it – every single word and every sentence.

Pastoralia was introduced to me by a friend and I cannot thank the friend enough. This collection of short-stories embodies the twisted, the lonely, and the post-modern version of American – served hot and ready to be slaughtered. Whether he talks about a couple living in a theme-park, where speaking is an offence (rings a bell given the times we live in?), or whether he is speaking of a male exotic dancer and his family, Saunders shows us a world that is funny and yet so scary, so familiar and strange, but above-all, so authentic and graceful in its prose.

Pastoralia

I must speak of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil here. This slim book is literally a tour-de-force (I know this word is way overused, however, I can’t help but use it for this one). This is the book about power-hungry, and demagogic Phil (again can’t help but relate it to the times we live in) and how his reign begins as people from one nation run into another for asylum.

Phil

Saunders has always sort of been prophetic when it comes to his stories, and whatever he chooses to write about really. Whether it is Tenth of December or In Persuasion Nation, both fantastic short-story collections, Saunders is on the top of his game, never missing a beat. His people are lost, maybe not even seeking redemption – all they want is their stories to be told, voices to be heard, and sometimes remain in the shadows battling their demons.

Tenth of December

The Brain-Dead Megaphone is perhaps one of the best collection of essays I have read in a long time. It is his first collection of essays and has trained himself to look at the real – ridden with a strangeness – in the political and cultural milieu. I loved the literary pieces in this book – Saunders’ view on Mark Twain, Vonnegut, and Barthelme – every essay is on point and showcases all the skewed characters chosen by the author.

Megaphone

This, I think in a very brief manner encapsulates his body of work that I have enjoyed and loved over the years. He is one writer that never disappoints and constantly delivers, no matter what. Read him and allow yourself to be taken in by his eccentric, mad, most illuminating prose.

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian by Upamanyu Chatterjee

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian Title: The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian
Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-9387693562
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So, here’s the thing. I never took a shine to Upamanyu Chatterjee’s books. Especially, English, August. I somehow never could see myself in that place and time. And yet, as I turned the pages of this novella, I could not stop till I was done. I devoured it in one sitting and that’s perhaps the only way to read this book. Might I also add that I have also enjoyed “Way to Go” a lot.

Upamanyu Chatterjee’s work may seem linear and pretty straight-forward but it so isn’t. There are many layers to the narrative – some for you to mull over and reach your own conclusions and some that are perhaps in your face and easy to understand.

The book is about an entire family being wiped out in a fire. Who did it and why forms the crux of the tale. I could speak about the characters and motives and more but I have often realized that when it comes to a novella, it is the writing that is of the essence. Sure, characters matter the most and some do stand out in this one as well, like Madhusudan Sen, ICS who turns vegetarian until justice has been served. To me, the setting also was very important – 1949. And not to forget that the book fits the times we live in where a person’s eating habits are of most important in our country.

The structure of the novella is also such that it is fast-paced, moreover, Chatterjee has written this in really short chapters, which works even better. “The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian” is a tale for our times. It is sad but true. Chatterjee’s writing of this one is surreal (maybe because it hits home). It is the kind of book that will be read and not forgotten.  You might not think about it regularly but it sure will resonate every now and then.