Category Archives: Literary Fiction

The Bloody Chamber, Wise Children, Fireworks (Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics) by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber Title: The Bloody Chamber, Wise Children, Fireworks
Author: Angela Carter
Publisher: Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics
ISBN: 978-1101907993
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fairy Tales
Pages: 504
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Well, if you ask me, Angela Carter was a movement in herself. I have read most of her books and there isn’t a single one which I haven’t been enthralled by or thought about its layers, once done with it. Also, might I add that while most people think (and rightly so) that “The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories” is a very raw and grisly take on fairy tales, it is much more than that.  Carter’s stories are underlined or rather soaked in eroticism and subverts their so-called “intended message”. At the same time, they entertain, enthrall and amuse.

It was somewhere in the last year of college that I started reading Carter. As most would, I started with “The Bloody Chamber” and finished it in one sitting through one night. Her sense of fabulism had got me hooked to whatever she had to say. To my mind, that mixed with the feminist tone, enhanced every single word and sentence, lending it the much-needed sense of imagination and force. Perhaps, it was also the age when I first read her that changed me as a person and kept doing so everytime I would go back to her works, as I grew older.

“The Bloody Chamber” is a collection of stories that isn’t an adaptation of fairy tales. They are just revisitations. The world is of Carter’s – where young girls are more aware of themselves sexually and emotionally, where beasts can be suitors, mothers and pets could be saviours and blood flows endlessly. If nudity, sex, violence, necrophilia, and murder upset you easily, then perhaps this collection of stories isn’t for you. You wouldn’t want to see your beloved fairy tale characters (or a semblance to them) being so aware and liberal about who they are and what they stand for.

Now to the next book in this collection: Wise Children. “Wise Children” is perhaps the onyl Carter which I read right now for the first time. I was almost cursing myself for waiting for all this time before reading it. This book isn’t strange as much as it is farcial, humorous and engaging. The signature elements of fabulism, magic realism (hate the word but shall use it) and this entwined with the ongoings of two families, make “Wise Children” for a splendid read. It is theatrical and nostalgic in its scope. The narrative voice of a 75-year-old former song and dance girl, is perfect. The larger than life characters of theatre and film is what Carter captures with such wit and scope, that it is enough to engulf you. Before I forget, the multiple Shakespearean references and plot devices used (since Dora and Nora Chance are Shakespearean actors) only enhance the humour and irony of the book.

“Wise Children” is almost a tribute to the Bard, both in characterization and its plot. The writing is wry, intelligent and fantastically told. Even if you do not get the Shakespearean references, it is quite alright. You will enjoy the book nonetheless.

“Fireworks” was Carter’s first collection of short stories. Published in 1974 (four years prior to The Bloody Chamber), it was subtitled, “Nine Profane Pieces”. I love how Carter doesn’t mean to titilate or scandalize and yet people feel that way when they read her. When all she was doing through her stories, was asserting her identity, womanhood, and the claiming of sex (as it would seem).

This collection of stories have her constant themes – domination and transformation, also the untimely loss of innocence (traces of this would also be seen in The Bloody Chamber and other stories) and entering the dark territory of emotions – mainly lust, and horror of the body and the mind. Carter never shied from exploring themes and pushing the envelope so to say. To my mind, she was one of the foremost women writers who captured the mind of a woman and merged it with the surreal and fantastical, almost leading the way for other writers.

The stories of “Fireworks” are all about the darkness within and somehow Carter’s writing makes it playful, non-linear and intriguing. I often found myself yet again wanting to be a part of the worlds she creates.

Angela Carter’s writing has perpetually been fascinating, not treating gender as anything but a social construct and love mixed with a lot of comedy. Her characters are undecided,   forever changing their minds, and strangely know what they want. The richness of her imagination was always evident in what she wrote and all I can say is read more of her. Her essays, short stories, novels and journalistic pieces. Read them all. She is a treasure worth admiring.

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Winter by Ali Smith

Winter by Ali Smith Title: Winter
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1101870754
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

 

If there’s one living writer, who sums the way we live, right down to precision and exactness, it is Ali Smith. According to me, at least. “Winter” is more than just the second instalment of the seasonal quartet. It is so many things, rolled into one that I do not know where to begin talking about it, but start, I must.

“Winter” in its entirety could also be a collection of puns, word play and humour that cannot be digested by all. Scottish writer Ali Smith takes on a step further in this one than she did in “Autumn” – the first part of the quartet.  As I was telling my book club members yesterday, as we discussed Winter, “Ali Smith sure has a way of drawing the reader in, right to the bottom of her world and then there is no letting go”.

I, initially had a tough time reading Winter, but twenty pages in and I knew I was sold – hook, line and sinker. It is a family drama and a commentary on the sociopolitical changes (as most of Smith’s books are). “Winter” is mainly about relationships if you ask me. There are three estranged folks in a family and an impostor. The plot: Sophie lives all by herself in Cornwall. She is in her 60s and has started seeing a floating head for no reason (for this, you have to read the book – no spoiler here and won’t be speaking much about this).

It is Christmas Time. Her son, Arthur, who writes a successful nature blog is scheduled to visit her with his girlfriend Charlotte. Charlotte and Art have broken up over a fight of ideals (again, read). Art finds Lux – a Croatian to impersonate as Charlotte, instead of telling his mother the truth. And then there is Iris, Sophie’s estranged sister who is also visiting, though uninvited. The book is about family, dynamics of the self and how the society has changed and continues to when it comes to technology, politics, the environment and human emotions to say the very least.

What I loved the most about “Winter” is the way Ali Smith breathes life into the monotonous activities – going to the bank, buying groceries, or even just being. She has a quiet way of describing events, people and relationships. Ultimately to me, “Winter” is a book that asks what it is like to live today? What it is to be today in tune with the world and not and what implications it might have? At the end of it all, Ali Smith’s “Winter” at the core is about art, love, life – what it once was and what it is today.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1447286004
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

The Great Alone is a story of wilderness and survival. I also think to a large extent it is the story of what it takes to rebuild and reconstruct life amidst tragedy (seemingly) and secrets (intentionally kept). This enough should get you to read this book. However, I shall tell you more so you do for sure read this one.

“The Great Alone” begins with Ernt Allbright dragging his wife, Cora and his daughter, Leni into a wilderness experience to Alaska to run away from his demons. Ernt has come home from the Vietnam War – a changed and hostile man. His daughter is thirteen and on the brink of adolescence. She is caught in her parents’ tumultous relationship and only wants some peace of mind. Mother and daughter will both follow the man wherever he takes them. They just want a new beginning.

In all of this, is Alaska. The daunting land, the unknown terrain that they enter and as winter approaches they realize that things aren’t what they thought it would be. Hannah’s writing seems simple initially, but as the layers run deep, it becomes complex. Not that any of it isn’t readable but there is so much going on that you have to pause and think about what you just read.

Alaska in itself is a major character. The bleakness, the winter and the darkness, coupled with Ernt’s fragile mental state, Lena and Cora are locked in for eighteen hours in their small cabin. The action has only begun. The terrors from within show up and that’s where I will not say anything more and wait for you to read the book.

Hannah’s writing is terrifying in this one. “The Nightingale” was a relatively tender book. “The Great Alone” demands writing (which the author delivers) that explores the dark recesses of the mind, the heart and the soul. It is a story of immense loss and how to perhaps recover or not from it. Kristin Hannah does a stupendous job of exploring emotions – the dark side and the ones in the light and what happens when the two merge. I would highly recommend this title.

 

 

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

Where the Dead Sit Talking Title: Where the Dead Sit Talking
Author: Brandon Hobson
Publisher: Soho Press
ISBN: 978-1616958879
Genre: Coming of Age
Pages: 288
Source: Author
Rating: 5 Stars

Coming of age stories are always appealing to me. Somewhere or the other, they spring up and I read them and get all nostalgic about growing-up too soon or growing-up and not realizing that it happened. “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is one such book. Also, might I add here that coming-of-age stories could also take place at a time when you are also an adult, however, this one is set on the brink of adolescence and is illuminating and intensely psychological at the same time.

“Where the Dead Sit Talking” is not a regular coming of age book. It is raw, jagged at the edges and tackles some major issues such as child abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and neglect without any pretense. Also, to some extent it draws on the flaws of the American foster care system (I’ve always wondered how efficient that is, but I guess there is another book for that at another time).

The book is set in the late ‘80’s, Sequoyah a fifteen-year-old, is the narrator of the book. He has moved from one foster home to another (his mother is serving jail time), till he seems to settle with this one family in Little Crow and that’s where the story begins. He forms an instant connection with one of the other foster children there – Rosemary and that forms the crux of the book.

The thing about this book is that it doesn’t sugar coat brutality. It is there for all to read and experience, no matter if you are cringing or don’t want to turn another page (which you wouldn’t want to, because this book is that good), read you must.

Hobson’s characters are so flawed and waiting for redemption so long, that you start hoping for them. Brandon’s prose is simple and yet striking, it is layered and easy to read, which to me are fantastic about very few books. Also, the Native-American narrative is so needed (was always needed) and comes out powerfully in the book. At the heart of it though, “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is about humans – battered, lonely, the ones who do things and then regret and sometimes there is no regret as well. It is a book waiting to share its secrets with you, it is more than just a coming-of-age book – the one that will move and haunt you in equal measure.

Missing by Sumana Roy

Missing by Sumana Roy Title: Missing
Author: Sumana Roy
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN:978-9386021991
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 267
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

There are some books that seep deep into​ your skin and sometimes you don’t even realize what they have done. “Missing” for me is one of those books. The premise as the title suggests might be that of a missing person, in this case, a missing woman, but at the core, it is about parts that go missing of ourselves and sometimes, actually most of the time, we don’t even know it.

“Missing” by Sumana Roy is so much more than what meets the eye, that it will be very difficult for me to explain what is going on in the book and in effect, what I felt as I turned its pages.

“Missing” is the kind of book that sneaks up on you in ways you wouldn’t imagine (when I say this, I mean it with the utmost good intentions). It is the summer of 2012. A young girl is molested in Guwahati. Kobita, a fifty-four-year-old activist, based out of Siliguri decides to travel to Guwahati to search for the molested girl who has gone missing. Her blind husband and poet, Nayan, is left at home, constantly waiting to hear from her. They have a son, Kabir, who is doing his research in England, on the Hill Cart road that connects Siliguri to Darjeeling. The book is about the seven days that happen in the month of July, 2012.

I will tell you why I loved Missing so much. “Missing” is a book about common people, going through life, leading seemingly common lives, till something happens. The relationship of Nayan and Kobita (so ironic that their names mean eyes and poetry when translated) is so fragile and yet Roy very tactfully doesn’t show things to the reader, till a certain time has passed in the book. In all of this, there is the making of a new bed for Nayan and Kobita, and Nayan has no choice but to depend on the carpenter and his family when it is clear that Kobita will not return anytime soon.

“Missing” to me was also about relationships that are lost and at sea and perhaps have no chance of being repaired. Do you know how that feels? Has it ever happened to you?

The writing will leave you melancholic for days and if you still want to feel a little distraught and liberated at the same time, I recommend Roy’s other book, “How I Became A Tree”. Roy’s writing is not the usual run of the mill. Why do I love her writing? She doesn’t judge anyone through her writing. There is no right or wrong. Her narration skills are superlative and research on point.

All in all, what I think is: “Missing” is a book of dashed hopes, of wanting to account for more in life and above all about what it is that makes us human or not after all. It is a book that will make you feel differently in different points of the read and will perhaps also make you question what you believe in or not.