Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid Title: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 978-1526612151
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

The book took off very slowly for me, till I finished Part 1 and was instantly floored by the turn the book took, and the writing. Such a Fun Age seems so less on the surface, and it is so much more the moment you give it time, dedication, and continue reading it without stopping. At times, the book is also quite deceptive in its approach, making you believe that it is about the men and not the women, whereas it is only about the women and rightly so.

The book is about Emira Tucker, a young black woman, who is all of 25 years old, lives in Philadelphia, with two part-time jobs (typist and babysitter), with no benefits and no health insurance at all. She wants to do more in her life but is always held back for one reason or the other. In all of this, her life is brought to the forefront involving an upscale grocery store, where she is on an errand with the toddler of her employer, Alix, who is white. Alix is deeply embarrassed by the incident and takes on Emira as a project – to get to know her better and make wrongs right.

This then leads to a series of questions raised throughout the book about class, gender, race, parenthood, forgiveness, and what it takes to be a person in the twenty-first century. The plot and the semi-plots are full of nuances as created by Reid. The book is funny, and before you know it, it becomes serious talking about racial biases, and the prejudices we seem to hold onto, sometimes even unintentionally.

Reid writes from a place of awareness and experience, which adds to the many dimensions of the book. The characters aren’t all black and white, and you do not expect them to be that was well. The greyness is something that just sneaks up (Emira’s boyfriend and what happens thereof). There is a lot of engagement with the reader, in the sense of being vested, as the pages turn. I often found myself not wanting this book to end because of the way it is written.

Such a Fun Age besides being a solid book of and for our times, is a read that will leave you bedazzled and wanting more. It’s take on privilege, wealth, class, and crossing of paths of people is refreshing, and makes it a compulsive read on so many levels.

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos. Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos Title: All My Goodbyes
Author: Mariana Dimópulos
Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore
Publisher: Transit Books
ISBN: 978-1945492150
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All My Goodbyes is a strange read. A strange read that is also very satisfying on so many levels. It is a love story, a story of trauma and violence, and also a story of memory told in fragments.

The book is about the disconnected life of an Argentine woman who is rootless, constantly moving from one place to another, leaving the people who take care of her. She is scared of any emotion (I think) and doesn’t even carry emotions with her as she leaves. She then reaches the southernmost region of Patagonia, convinced that she has finally found home and happiness, till she is caught up in murders that seem to take over her life.

Dimópulos’s writing is sharp and exacting. There is no beating around the bush. It is thread-bare and works on so many levels for a book of this nature. It isn’t an easy read to begin with – the narrative moves between time and space, in almost every paragraph. However, it is very fulfilling if you keep at it.

Sentences and plot changes jump at you unexpectedly, which to me is the main strength of this read. The aura of mystery is maintained right till the end, including the life of the narrator that always keeps you second-guessing. The translation by Alice Whitmore is spot-on and manages to recreate everything the author intended it to be (again I am only going by what I have read).

All My Goodbyes is constantly moving like the narrator. It forces you to surrender to the story and let the book take you where it has to. I suggest don’t make much of it to begin with. Just read with an open mind and that is enough. More than enough to understand how we are connected to fellow humans in the larger scheme of the world and our place in it.

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy Title: Exquisite Cadavers
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 9789388754842
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I do not know where to begin talking about this book. There is so much going on in this book – love, hate, fights, religion, a book about a young couple navigating love and hate in London, about migration, and how we are in the modern world. Or rather how we perceive love, and its failings (if any).

Exquisite Cadavers is about a young couple, Karim and Maya. Karim is a filmmaker who has left his house in Tunis, and made his house in London with Maya, an English woman, who is battling her demons of an almost absent father, fighting with giving up cigarettes, and is confronted by a pregnancy she isn’t quite sure of.

The book is very cleverly divided into the actual novella and in the margins the thoughts of Meena as she was writing the actual book. Sometimes it just feels that the novel is meta and the thin line between reality and fiction is blurred to the point of it not being recognised. Pieces are stitched – revealing one layer after another. While one column speaks of Karim and Maya, the other speaks of the author’s creative process, her life, and the horrors occurring in India (yes, she speaks of the current ruling party and what followed).

Meena’s life on the left – from seeing her friends killed and arrested to becoming an activist herself is a stream of consciousness that shouldn’t be missed. The rage and anger is perhaps what we need in large doses, given the times we live in. At the same time, the domestic tale of Karim and Maya is extremely engaging, till the two very cleverly meet at the end of the book.

Exquisite Cadavers is a book that needs time to brew and seep, till you pick it up and look at it by taking sides. You need to take a side, and stay there. This book demands that when it comes to marginalia – you cannot sit on the fence. It is an experimental novella unlike any other that I have come across and it will make you question, ponder, mull, and understand where you come from.

 

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.