Category Archives: Hachette Book Group

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette USA
ISBN: 978-0316556347
Genre: Mythology, Literary Fiction, Greek Mythology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have never followed Greek Mythology with great fervor. In fact, even while I was in school and college, these myths did not interest me much. Till after, when I started reading The Iliad and the Odyssey that my interest levels peaked and there was no turning back. Also, might I add the various retellings – from “The Penelopiad” by Margaret Atwood to Ilium by Dan Simmons (a lesser-known work but a work of sheer beauty) to also the funny “Gods Behaving Badly” by Marie Phillips and then “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller happened and changed it all, I suppose.

I read “The Song of Achilles” and was floored by it. And now her brand-new book “Circe” – to me is even better. I also tend to think her craft has worked way better when it comes to this one. Circe has always been thought of as the dangerous siren from Homer’s Odyssey who lured sailors to their deaths with her seductive song. Madeline Miller changes that perception and manages to make her more human (ironic, isn’t it?) than just be someone cold and distant.

Madeline Miller makes Circe’s life real, with motivators, with passion, life experiences that made her who she was. There is no justification and no sides are taken. Miller steers clear from all of that. There are shades of grey which are present in almost every character in the book – from Helios – Circe’s father (Titan God of the Sun) or Perse (her mother, an Oceanid naiad), to her siblings who are cruel to her (this was one of the major reasons of Circe being who she turned out to be), and all the other nymphs who are seemingly lovelier than Circe.

Circe turns to witchcraft when she makes Glaucos (a mortal) a god, and even more so when Glaucos falls in love with another nymph. “Pharmaka” or witchcraft is frowned upon by all gods and goddesses and this is how Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia to live a solitary life. It is here that she practices her powers of witchcraft and excels. It is here that her life begins (as is also mentioned in the Odyssey).

I love how Miller uses the story of Circe to make so many points – feminism, alienation, acceptance, loss of love and not being able to fit in. Madeline Miller also didn’t restrict the book to mainly being Circe’s story. It is also about the other mythological characters that Circe encounters – Prometheus, Daedalus, Icarus, Hermes, Athena, Penelope and more and all the other gods and mortals. It is also through them that Miller shows us various emotions and sides to Circe, thus leading her to actively participate in their myths as well.

“Circe” might be a retelling and may not be for everyone (more so if you are a purist when it comes to myths) but it sure did work for me. All in all, it was a great read, with everything falling in place – from the plot to the characters to the way Madeline has written the story – with not a single dull moment. Will sure keep you turning the pages.

 

Advertisements

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman Title: The Italian Teacher
Author: Tom Rachman
Publisher:Riverrun
ISBN:978-1786482587
Genre:Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source:Publisher
Rating:4 Stars

After a very long time, I read a book about art and its understanding and more than anything else about the value it holds in our lives. “The Italian Teacher” is a melting pot of everything – well, almost – it is about art, its integrity, how to preserve it, the frailty of humans, and of relationships we hold close and the ones that often break way too easily.

Pinch’s parents are both artists. To a very large extent it is the bane of his life, but somehow Pinch learns to live with it. His mother, Natalie, is a maker of pottery and quite eccentric at that. While his father, Bear Bavinsky is a renowned painter who only cares about his art and nothing else in the world means anything to him. Pinch only wants his father to notice him and show him some affection.

Pinch wants to become an artist and his dissuaded by his father, who leaves Natalie and Pinch in Italy, moving to America where other wives and children await him. Years pass. Pinch wants to chronicle his father’s life but ends up teaching Italian in London. One fine day Bear dies and Pinch comes up with a plan to ensure his father’s legacy is secure.

That in short is the plot of the book. But this is just the surface. There is a lot which takes place that I haven’t even mentioned. The rawness of emotions, passion for art and above all the desire to keep proving oneself to ones we love is at the crux of this book. Rachman strikes so many chords and presses all the right buttons when it comes to emotions and relatability (we all can relate to it – after all it is all about ambition and love at the end of the day).

“The Italian Teacher” is an immersive experience. I could sense everything – the way Rachman weaves not only the story but the passages and chapters on art are so stunning that I often thought I was there, as it was all unfolding. The book starts in 1955 and goes on till 2018 and the sheer expanse of the book – plus to ensure to tie everything together is no easy task. The span of the book is done justice to by Rachman. The relationship between a son and his father shines throughout the book – it is so complex and layered that you are only left thinking about your relationship with your parents.

At the same time the questions of art and what it takes to be an artist are deftly managed and in relation to the world that changes across the book. “The Italian Teacher” is a feast of a read which is not to be missed.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-1408709726
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I knew exactly what I was getting into as I started reading “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng. I had read her first book two years ago called “Everything I Never Told You” and couldn’t wait to start her new one. I can for sure say that I enjoyed “Little Fires Everywhere” a lot more (sorry for that Celeste, though I also enjoyed your debut novel a lot as well). The prose, the description and more than that how life in America is when it comes to consumerism and parenthood at some point mingling together is brilliantly depicted in this novel of dysfunctional families, twisted minds and family ties.

“Little Fires Everywhere” begins with a house burnt down in a closely tight-knit planned community where nothing of this sort would be dreamed of happening by its residents. The idea of well-gated community called Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997 says a lot about the Utopia and unwelcome change and how all if it disrupts the Richardson family’s seemingly happy life, when Mia (a charismatic artist) and her shy fifteen-year old daughter Pearl, move to the town as tenants in the house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents.

This triggers events – mainly the differences in their lifestyles and also what is the attitude of the Richardsons when old family friends on theirs decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby – that would one day lead to the Richardson’s own house burning. I am not giving away anything, don’t worry, but all I can say is that this book kept me up longer than I intended those two nights it took me to finish it.

Celeste Ng has this amazing quality of going easy on the reader mostly and then out of nowhere, she shows you the cracks in relationships, the changes as people interact with each other and how explosive it all is under a calm surface. I loved the writing. It is fast and yet bringing out the details of every character – the Richardson family (mother, father and four teenage children), Mia and Pearl (who I loved as the book moved along) and also the other couple – every detail, every sentence is in place when it comes to “Little Fires Everywhere”. The title is so layered – depicting the fires within and the ones that we see. The ones we also feel but deny and move along in life. If you have to read one book this October (while there is still time), make it this one.

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man Title: Tin Man
Author: Sarah Winman
Publisher: Tinder Press, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-1472252159
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

A lot of people were talking about “Tin Man” before I got down to reading it. I was the late-comer at the party and I was only too happy about it because I went reading the book without any expectations or knowing anything about it. I am so glad that happened because I loved the book. Me loving the book would be an understatement in my opinion. It was more than love. It was something that I cannot put my finger on and so it is very tough to describe my emotions as I read this book and also after I put it down.

“Tin Man” by Sarah Winman is a story of a painting, of a woman who believes that boys can also appreciate beauty and be tender, of two boys Ellis and Michael who are best of friends and grow up together and a woman named Annie who walks into their lives and everything changes and still remains the same. I am putting it very loosely but let me also tell you that this book is magical. It transports you in the world it creates and will have you weeping for more. I do not exaggerate when I say this. At least, it sure did happen to me this way.

Ellis and Michael cannot be separated. They become men. Annie suddenly enters their lives and stays. The three of them live. Till something changes and then the story begins. Actually, the story begins way earlier with Ellis’ mother winning a painting (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers) at a raffle, which is how the book begins.

The first half of the book is Ellis. The second half is Michael which is heartbreaking. These just happen to be men in love. There is no agenda here. You shouldn’t even read it this way. The prose is so tender, graceful, raw and overwhelming – that for a short book I had to shut it and get back to it after a day or two. I couldn’t finish it in one sitting as I thought I would. I am not going to tell you what happens as I don’t want to give away too much.

Winman writes beautifully. There are so many love stories in this short book and mind you she doesn’t get soppy. We go back and forth through their lives and can only empathize with the men and what it must have been for them. It is heavy on the emotions and a little less when it comes to descriptions which I didn’t mind at all. The loneliness of love, the anguish of separation and the redemption that someday we will be together is what makes you love this small gem of a book so much.

Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

dark-things-by-sukanya-venkatraghavan Title: Dark Things
Author: Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9350099223
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 360
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Not a lot of people write fantasy fiction in the country and that to me was perplexing at one point, till it became clear. A lot of readers don’t read homegrown fantasy fiction. It could work either way, but the point being – there have to be more authors and readers of the so-called Indian fantasy fiction genre only because there is so much to explore, given our rich mythology and stories we have been hearing from our grandmothers on a cold winter’s night. With this thought in mind, I am glad that I got the opportunity to read ‘Dark Things’ by Sukanya Venkatraghavan and also interview her at the Halloween event organized by Books on Toast.

It would be quite safe to say that you wouldn’t have read anything like “Dark Things”. I would also be very candid and say that initially I thought I would not be taken in by a book like this, about Indian demons and monsters, but all it took me was two chapters to be hooked in to the world of Atala, the lives (I think I can say that) of Ardra, Hera and Dwai. Also, at this point, might I add that the book’s plot is inspired by a Keralan temple legend (which again to my mind is innovative and draws from its roots and should be done more often) and also manages to merge with modern times in a rather kick-ass manner.

Now to the plot of the book – Dwai survives a supernatural attack on Earth by Ardra. Ardra’s world is literally thrown into a series of questions and confusion at this incident. I was more clued in to the character of Hera – she is evil and that kinda made me want to know more about her and where she comes from. Everyone loves the hero so to say, but I was more piqued about this anti-hero. She is brazen, wild and doesn’t let emotions get better of her. This is the world of Gandharvas, Apsaras and Yakshis and you need patience to get into it.

I think to a very large extent, the plot being so simple helps reading this book. That way what tends to happen is that you can focus on the characters and what’s going on with them – in the sense a true balance between plot and characterization is struck. There is also a lot of romance in this book but let me also tell you that this is far from the usual paranormal romance. There are more layers to it which only come to light once you are further in the book and have been able to connect one with the other. All said and done, should you read Dark Things? Of course, you should. Should you perhaps pester the writer for a sequel right after finishing it? You bet your ass you must!