Category Archives: Literary Fiction

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett Title: The Dutch House
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526618757
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is a novel of many wonders. It is a box of things that are seen at first glance, only to discover a secret opening, where new things emerge from. This book gives, and gives, and gives some more. As a reader, as a fan of Patchett’s works, as an ardent admirer of what she puts to paper, my experience with The Dutch House has been surreal, mixed with nostalgia, and snatches of memory of my own childhood (though not this morbid or unfortunate).

What is a novel? What should be a novel? Is there such a thing as an ideal novel? Who decides that, if there is something like that? The critic? The reader? Or all of us, trying to find answers to questions of meaning of life, hope, and love as we turn the pages of novel after novel, searching for truths unknown as we move from one work of fiction to another?

The Dutch House is a fairy-tale. It is also gothic in nature when you least expect it to be. It is also full of misery, and then surprises you with moments of hope and togetherness. It is the story of two siblings – how they lose their home, how they understand each other (or not), and how they reclaim some of their lost home.

We are introduced to Danny (the narrator), and his older sister Maeve right at the beginning of the book. Their introduction to their would-be stepmother Andrea is where the book starts, and that’s when the series of events unfold in front of the reader – travelling between the past and the present of the novel.

The fairy-tale element runs strong, with a fair share of the Gothic that adds to the strong plot. Not to forget the way Patchett builds on the characters – from the housekeepers to the people that enter and exit from the siblings’ lives. Each character and each plot point is thought of to the last minute detail and maybe therefore this novel is as close to being perfect or it already is in more than one way.

What I found most interesting was the use of narration – by using the first-person narrator technique in a novel where time is of most importance, we see events unfold through two perspectives – the younger Danny and the older Danny. A doppelgänger effect, adding another layer to the complexity of the book.

The Dutch House is deceptively simple. It is a book that seems so easy to read on the surface, and it is. However, it is in joining the dots that are far and wide that adds to the reading experience. It is for this reason and more that Patchett is one of my top 10 favourite writers and will always be. She makes you feel, she makes you internalise how you think and feel as you read her books, and more than anything else she reminds you that being humane is the heart of it all.

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay Title: The Far Field
Author: Madhuri Vijay
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 9789353570958
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I honestly do not know how to review The Far Field. It is one of those books that has so much to offer that one doesn’t know where to start talking about it. The varied themes, the writing, the plot, the characterization, or even the way it often makes you think about your relationship with people and the world at large. To me, The Far Field is one of the best books I’ve read this year and rightly so.

I started the book with great trepidation given the negative reviews I had read online, but all it took me was a couple of pages in to dismiss them. This is the kind of book that unknowingly creeps up on you and sticks. It stays. It makes you mull and wonder and often even makes you take sides.

You may think Shalini, the protagonist is selfish. You may think of her as inconsiderate in so many places and might even be enraged at her choices, but having said that all she does is travel from Bangalore to Kashmir in search of a man – a salesman by the name Bashir Ahmed to find answers, in the wake of her mother’s death. A mother who was as determined as she was sharp with her tongue and opinions. A mother who struck an unlikely friendship with Bashir. A mother who was also a bored housewife, an intelligent one at that, and someone who just wanted some attention and care.

The Far Field to me is not a political story just because it is set mostly in Kashmir. It is about people, it is about family, community, and the bonds we forge, rather unknowingly. The book is about what we hold on to and what we leave behind. It is about Shalini and what happens to her and the people she meets or wants to meet.

Madhuri Vijay writes brutally. She bares it all for the reader to see, to hurt with the characters, and feel this twinge of sadness as things do not turn out the way you wanted to. The reader is involved, and by that I refer to myself. I don’t want to give away too much about the story but be rest assured that you will find it very hard to put down this book once you’ve begun (or so I hope).

 The Far Field will have you question your ties with family. The things we choose to say with such ease and the things we do not. The ones we think we communicate about and the ones which we don’t are the most important. Something always gets lost. The book like I said is about family, the ties we forge along the way, and what comes of them in the end, if there is an end at all.

Lanny by Max Porter

Lanny by Max Porter Title: Lanny
Author: Max Porter
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571340286
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I remember reading Grief is the Thing with Feathers a couple of years ago and being blown away by the writing, and of course with good enough and more reasons. At that time, it took me a reread to sink into the novel a little more, and rightly so. The layers of grief and loss and to add to that a crow made perfect sense.

The prose of Max Porter is unique, the plot is all over the place (as it is in Lanny as well), but once you succumb to the world he creates, nothing else matters. His latest offering and Booker Prize 2019 long-listed nomination Lanny is all of the above and more.

I picked Lanny with great trepidation. I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectation. More than anything else in my experience, Booker Longlist titles have more often than not proven to be disappointing. This wasn’t the case with Lanny.

Lanny literally drips with lyrical language, almost poetic, and some great writing. This is then backed with a plot that is steeped in reality and yet magical, combined with writing that takes you out of your comfort zone. It is the story of a missing boy on the surface of it – a boy from a rural space lost on the commuter belt to London. But there is so much more to Lanny than just this.

Lanny lives with his parents – mum, a retired actress now author and dad, a city worker. They live in the village that is riddled with mystery, superstition, and folklore. This then is added with everyone’s supposition and assumption of what happened to Lanny. At the same time, there are two very central characters to the book – Mad Pete and Dead Papa Toothwort, who not only add to the strangeness but also most certainly move the plot forward. You need to understand and know these characters for yourself.

This book isn’t easy to get into. It will take some time but persist is what I have to say. Give it that time and to the writing prowess of Porter. Read it at leisure. Deliberate and go back and forth the way you are supposed to. Argue with it. Read it for the beautiful empathetic prose and what it means to be a child and an adult in our world.

Porter’s creativity is at its peak and this is only his second book. I for one cannot wait to see what he has in store next for all of us. Fingers crossed; I am rooting for this to make it to the shortlist.

Elastic by Johanne Bille. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg

Elastic by Johanne Bille Title: Elastic
Author: Johanne Bille
Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg
Publisher: Lolli Editions
ISBN: 978-1-9999928-0-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 161
Source: Publisher/Marketing Agency
Rating: 4 stars

Elastic by Johanne Bille is a book that just made its way to me at the right time. Women in Translation was coming up and a marketing agency offered me a chance to read it as a part of the Blog/Instagram tour and I jumped on it. I jumped on the opportunity because it seemed liked a read that I would most certainly enjoy, and I am so glad that it surpassed every single expectation.

Elastic is literally a book for the times we live in. Mathilde is the core of Alice’s existence. Mathilde’s force is so strong that everything changes. It is the kind of love and lust that is self-destructive and redemptive at the same time. A love that perhaps you encounter once in a lifetime. Mathilde on the other hand is also quite mercurial and happily married to Alexander. Alice is moving into a bigger flat with Simon who is back in her life. And thus, starts a relationship of four people – of love, sex, intimacy, jealousy, and the workings of the human heart.

Bille’s writing sets the tone from the very beginning. The open love affairs, the choices one makes in love, and also the satisfaction and loneliness arising from it are beautifully explored. The entire book is told through fragments and it works brilliantly for a novel of this theme and magnitude.

Elastic is the kind of book that must be read in one go and perhaps that’s the only way to read it. It defines the current emotional state of people so well that you might just identify yourself with one of the characters. It felt like I was reading the movie Closer – the same intensity but less brutal. Bille’s writing and Hellberg’s translation were a match waiting to happen. Read Elastic. Be taken in by what happens when love washes over you and doesn’t let go.

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead Title: The Nickel Boys
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Fleet Books, Hachette
ISBN: 9780708899434
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2.5 stars

There are some books you wish you love when you read them. You want to love them with all your heart and soul. The Nickel Boys was one such book for me. I quite enjoyed and liked The Underground Railroad and I wanted more out of The Nickel Boys. I did. I was expecting a lot – to be emotionally turned inside-out by the end of the read, which sadly did not happen to me at all.

When any book is such a struggle to read and get through, you know you will never revisit it or recommend it. The Nickel Boys sadly is that book for me this year.

The book starts off with great promise. The first part of the book is written with great insight, sensitivity, and empathy throughout. It is about Elwood Curtis and his life out of the juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy and inside of it. For a black teenager in the early 60s, all it takes is one mistake to destroy his future. The Nickel Academy is a hellish reform school, who has the outer façade of creating moral and upright citizens of delinquents who have lost their way. Beneath all of this, is a world of torture, discrimination, and instances that end in death.

Elwood’s grandmother Harriet, his dreams, his ambitions, and his idea of a free world are all left behind when he enters The Nickel Academy by no fault of his. Whitehead’s inspiration of the Nickel Academy came from the infamous Dozier school that made headlines as fake graveyards were discovered on the closed school’s grounds.

The Nickel Boys is mainly set outside of the school – part one and part three at that. While a lot is also set in it, as you can read in part two, as a reader I was left underwhelmed and wanting more. Also, Elwood suddenly is thrown in a world where he meets several characters (but naturally) and yet I could feel nothing for them. I wanted to. I so wanted to be immersed in this book, but I just couldn’t. For instance, Turner (one of the boys Elwood befriends) was one such character that wasn’t explored enough in my opinion. The constant battle of his pessimism and Elwood’s optimism is the only thing that stayed (beautifully done at that).

I understood the book – the nuances, the being an accomplice to what was going on inside the house for every boy once you walked into its doors to even the question of loyalty in a place like The Nickel Academy. Yet, with all its nuances and sometimes brilliant prose, I was left wanting more. The threads somehow didn’t connect and by the time I reached Part Three, I was drained of any comprehension to move on with the read. There is also no iota of character development. The book could’ve been longer and perhaps more time spent in letting us know about the characters and their lives, which sadly did not happen.

And yes, the dignity of human life, the assertion of black lives mattering, the understanding of injustices, and more than anything else persistence of the human spirit comes across in the book in bits and pieces, but I wish it was held together strongly. The book falters and stumbles, without any direction. The Nickel Boys was one book I was waiting to read with great anticipation. I wish I had enjoyed it with similar enthusiasm.