Category Archives: Hogarth

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson Title: The Gap of Time
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publisher: Hogarth Shakespeare
ISBN: 978-0804141352
Genre: Literary Fiction, Adaptation,
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books or plays that you cannot imagine being retold and when they are, you cannot imagine anyone else retelling them but the author who gave it a new voice. I strongly go by this and more so after I finished reading “The Gap of Time” by Jeanette Winterson, a retelling of “The Winter’s Tale” by the Bard – the first in the project commissioned by Hogarth books under a new imprint “Hogarth Shakespeare” where all of Shakespeare’s plays will be retold by various authors.

“The Winter’s Tale” is one of Shakespeare’s last plays – exploring the theme of forgiveness more than jealousy over time. The plot is similar to “Othello”, but the story and the way it moves is very different and so is the conclusion. There is redemption. You actually need not read “The Winter’s Tale” to read “The Gap of Time” but do have some plot summary in your head before you embark on Winterson’s adaptation.

King Leontes of Sicily believes his wife Hermione is having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia and that the child she is carrying is his. So he orders Polixenes to be murdered, the bastard girl child to be exposed to die and Hermione to be sent to prison, where it is believed that she also dies. The bastard girl child survives. Shakespeare has a change of heart so to say and must wait till the child Perdita – the lost one appears in Act II and everything then falls into place, including the broad themes of forgiveness, time and everything that is lost must be found.

Jeanette Winterson takes this plot and makes it her own. The setting is contemporary. The jealousies are the same. Polixenes is Xeno – a bisexual man who is in love with his best friend Leo and his wife MiMi. Leo suspects MiMi of having an affair with Xeno. Perdita is born. Leo orders his gardener to take her to Xeno. Things don’t go as planned. Perdita is adopted by a grieving man Shep and his son Clo. The plot unravels on Shep’s seventieth birthday and nothing is the same ever for the characters caught in the trap of time. They have to live and see what happens next and a lot does, which I will not give away in this review.

Winterson does a fantastic job of bringing “The Winter’s Tale” alive in 2008 – when the financial crisis was hitting the world and bringing it down. The theme of redemption is so strong running throughout that Winterson is the only one I know of who can breeze through it, without it becoming boring or monotonous at any point. There were lines I could not stop underlining or marking. The writing as usual leaves you speechless. It actually also surpasses time itself – just as her earlier works, where time is fluid, flexible and bends at will. “The Gap of Time” is such a worthy successor to “The Winter’s Tale”. You simply have to read it.

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Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra Title: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Author: Anthony Marra
Publisher: Hogarth, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1781090053
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are debut novelists and then may be after reading him I can safely say that there is Anthony Marra. This is after reading his book, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” and the fact that I could not stop sighing and being spectacularly amazed by most of his writing as the pages were turned. The writing does not seem as though it belongs to a debut writer or maybe I am just underestimating debut writers, but this one is sure to look out for. For one, no one or maybe very few people would have heard of the Chechen wars before reading this book. It was certainly an eye-opener for me and I can only thank Anthony enough for introducing me to this side of the world as well.

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is not going to be an easy read. It is not even a happy read as far as I am concerned. It has its moments of happiness and then it gets quite dreary. What does one expect of a novel told in the time of war and unrest? Well, for most things, one expects humanity and Marra delivers like a charm with reference to that expectation, thereby not only fulfilling but also surpassing it.

The book passes through or rather is told through a decade – from 1996 to 2004 and speaks of lives that were embroiled during the Chechen War, with the Russian History but of course making an appearance time and again in the book. The history of Chechnya is long and often confusing. Anthony Marra on the other hand, does not give us complete details of the land. Instead he chooses to talk about ordinary lives and the impact of ethnic strife on them and how their lives change beyond recognition. This worked with me as a reader on most levels. I guess all readers want to know more of the humane side of the story than anything else and Marra most certainly delivers on that one.

In this hard-hitting novel, Anthony takes us back and forth in the lives of the major characters, surrounded by the secondary characters that are equally integral to the plot and structure. There is Akhmed, an incompetent doctor with a big heart and an invalid wife, Sonja, a surgeon who labours each and every day at a bombed hospital and living with her own demons, and Havaa an eight-year old girl who has lost her family and is now about to start a new life. Centered around these are the other characters that make up the entire concept of Six Degrees of Separation that runs strongly throughout the book.

The cycle of life is seen through the book – birth, changes, adaptation, movement, growth and sometimes death is what holds the book strong. Marra’s writing is surreal and often had me wonder: Where did the stories come from? What is the deal with the plot? The title in itself is intriguing and as you move through the novel, you understand its importance. The novel is intense and deep and yet the moments of compassion are plenty that take you by surprise. After all, sometimes all one needs is compassion to get one through in times of uncertainty and a war-torn land and a heart that needs much more. The emotional highs are plenty and that is precisely why I was urging everyone to read this book. It may be dark and depressing in places, but for me, it filled my heart with joy in most places. A must read.

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Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Translator: Sam Garrett (from the Dutch)
Publisher: Hogarth
ISBN: 978-0-7704-3785-5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have wanted to read this book since the time it has been translated and out in the market. However, I did not get to for a while. I managed to finish it last week and I love the books that interest me – whose story lines are so different and which have way too many layers to them. “The Dinner” by Herman Koch is definitely one of them for me this month.

“The Dinner” is a book written in Dutch and translated wonderfully by Sam Garrett. This is also one of the reasons I enjoyed this book a lot. I am biased towards translated works and maybe that is why. The plot: Two couples meet at a fancy restaurant in Amsterdam over dinner, discussing everything under the sun, from movies to life to their relationships. The topic of the evening is skirted many a times before getting to it, which is about their children. The evening then takes an ugly turn when secrets tumble out of the closet, for both the families (who incidentally are related to each other, brothers and their wives) with disastrous consequences and revelations that the reader is taken by shock with when he or she reaches those parts.

What I liked most about the book is the suspense element and how the placing was done. The revelations are done not hurriedly, giving reader the time to take in what is there to offer. The conflicting opinions of the brothers and the wives’ reactions to those are superbly done. The writing is simple and yet so much to give the reader in terms of structure, plot, atmosphere and the narrative.

Koch uses his words sparingly so, which again was a plus where I was concerned, because I do not like unnecessary use of language in a book, when not required. Family relationships are difficult to be brought out in books, or at least so I think. There are very few authors according to me, who manage this quite brilliantly and Koch is maybe in that league. He has written several other books and I can only hope that they also get translated, after the success of this one. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it also reminded me of the movie Carnage in bits and pieces, which was a good thing and yet somehow I did not want any reference or reminders, but I am overlooking that, because the book in itself is superb.

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