Category Archives: Penguin Modern Classics

365 Stories: Day 11: The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

a-pair-of-silk-stockings-by-kate-chopin

Today’s story is funny, will warm your heart and at the same time will leave you with your jaw dropped at the end of it. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, to me is one of the first feminist novels ever.

“The Story of an Hour” is about a woman who has just chanced on independence, only to have it been taken away from her. Read the story. It is about three pages long, so I cannot really give away more while talking about it. But what I can say is that, it is a story that is funny (read: wry humour depicting how the society was then – the story is set in early 1990s), tragic and ironic.

Steps in Darkness by Krishna Baldev Vaid

Steps in Darkness by Krishna Baldev Vaid Title: Steps in Darkness
Author: Krishna Baldev Vaid
Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 9780143419792
Genre: Translation, Literary Fiction, Indian Fiction
Pages: 170
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is another one of those books I would have never thought of reading and it just happened to me. It is fun when these things happen. The monotony of life gets broken. There is something new to look forward to. Even if it means that it is just about turning pages of a new book. “Steps in Darkness” is one of those books which I had not heard or, neither did I want to read it. It came to me and I read it. I was pleasantly surprised. I started enjoying the nuances brought out by the writer and what I liked the most was that the book has been translated from Hindi by the author himself, so there is a lot of originality which is intact and left sacrosanct.

“Steps in Darkness” is about an Indian family, living in pre-partition times. It is a family living in poverty and each member is struggling with his or her own insecurities and fear. Vaidji has written the book with utmost clarity and fierce honesty. Beero, but a boy, lives through the day to day events, as his family cannot make sense of themselves. His father is a gambler and wife beater. His mother blames him for everything and yet loves him the most or so it seems to him at times. His sister Devi does not know what to do. She is flirting with men all the time. His grandmother is nothing but a nuisance for his mother.

All of this plays out in extreme poverty and sadness of life. All of this is witnessed by a boy on the brink of manhood and yet who cannot understand why things happen the way they do. All Beero wants are snatches of joy and kindness, which he tries very hard to come across at and outside of his home.

Baldev Vaidji’s writing shines in so many places. I could almost imagine and hear the voices as they were written in Hindi. There are a lot of dialogues and inner dialogues as well, which according to me is the highlight of this book.

“Steps in Darkness” is in some way coming of age, but it is also about what it takes to perhaps be human and patient, no matter what life dishes out to you. I also think that there were times when I could not stand to read the book, because of the stark nature of poverty depicted, but I had to, because the book did not leave me with any other option.

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Book Review: BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara

BUtterfield 8 by John O'Hara Title: BUtterfield 8
Author: John O’Hara
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143124689
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember the first time I watched BUtterfield 8. I was dazzled by the plot and more so by Elizabeth Taylor. I grew up some. I grew up some more. At twenty-five I realized that it was adapted from a book by the same title, written by John O’Hara and I could not wait to get my hands on it and devour it. I searched everywhere – high and low, but could not find it anywhere. This was way before the online shopping mania struck us. Somehow, I managed to find three of his novels in one book – Appointment in Samarra, BUtterfield 8 and Hope of Heaven. I devoured BUtterfield 8 in one sitting and loved it.

It was Elizabeth Taylor who played Gloria Wandrous so well, that somehow she stayed in my mind. I lost my copy and then got a chance to reread it – a fantastic Penguin Drop Cap edition of the book and it just felt the same way, the first time I read it.

BUtterfield 8 is set in New York. It is New York in 1931 and it is glamorous and ruthless at the same time. It is a society yet to pick up its pieces from the Great Depression and yet it puts on a show and façade for all to see. One Sunday morning, Gloria wakes up in a stranger’s apartment, with a torn evening dress, stockings and a pair of panties. She has nothing to wear. She steals a mink coat from the wardrobe and starts a chain of events – all strangers interconnected by that one action of hers – which but obviously only ends in tragedy for her. This in short is the plot of the book.

O’Hara’s story is bold and candid and Gloria somehow becomes an icon. An icon that no one wants to aspire to be, however she does instil courage and determination in readers. O’Hara’s pen gives us lines full of wit, candour and irony. The only problem with BUtterfield 8 is that there are too many characters in it – that flash and go and then come back, leaving the reader confused at some point.

I guess the beauty of his novels lay in honesty. He told it like he saw it, without sugar-coating anything and in that, lays the genius of a writer. I knew that there could be no other end to the story and yet the writing somehow makes you hopeful to want more for Gloria, than just a doomed love-affair. I guess if that kind of powerful writing hits you, then all you need is hot chocolate and to switch off the cell-phone and devour this book in one straight sitting.

Here is the trailer of the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor:

Book Review: Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

Title: Mrs. Bridge
Author: Evan S. Connell
Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-0141198651
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell is a deceptively simple story. On the surface it might seem to be just another story of a woman, rather a portrait of a woman, and a housewife at that, told in over one hundred brief and discrete chapters.
Mrs. Bridge to a very large extent could very-well be any Indian housewife (without the household chores) – with her suppressed desires, yearnings and longings, while focusing entirely on taking care of her family, in this case Mr. Bridge and her three children. She is a Kansas City housewife who spends her days shopping, visiting, and playing bridge. Her housework is taken care of by the maid. Her husband works long hours. Her children grow up as children often do.

The book traverses the so-called journey of a woman – from childhood to when she got married to how she lives and that is what is most appealing. The writing at times feels thread-bare but as the reader continues reading the book, the opinion changes drastically. Connell takes the book to a point also when the reader starts pitying the protagonist. It is then that the book seems to be frightening in its own way.

Connell is a master of the highest order. His prose is as crisp as it gets. He does not believe in wasting words and that is evident throughout the book. Mrs. Bridge never sees herself the way she wants to. She always sees herself the way others would – from her country-club friends to her husband to her children. The time also in which the novel is set is important. Set in the decades surrounding World War I and World War II, it reeks of change and yet juxtaposes monotony in the protagonist’s life.

Mrs. Bridge is such a character who will not even admit to herself what she goes through and the characterization done by Connell is excellent. Mr. Bridge is hardly present in the book (he later appears though in another book called Mr. Bridge, but that’s another review). The prose is biting. You may not be an affluent housewife and yet you will connect to the character in more than one way. Mrs. Bridge cannot assert any kind of individuality in her life and I was overwhelmed a little reading those parts. I would recommend Mrs. Bridge only if you want to read something to shake you up a bit. It sure will.

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Book Review: The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato

Title: The Tunnel
Author: Ernesto Sabato
Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-0141194547
Genre: Modern Classic, Literary Fiction
PP: 160 pages
Price: £8.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is a succinct novel told from the point of view of a man obsessed. The reader follows the narrative through the eyes of the main protagonist, a jailed artist, Juan Pablo Castel, explains why he murdered a woman. He recounts the story of his intense, destructive relationship with Maria: it begins with a fleeting, seemingly inconsequential moment but turns in to an obsession which consumes him completely.

This is written in sparse and succinct sentences which makes this easy to read but nevertheless the reader can relate totally with the narrator. You the reader start to understand and share his obsessions and frustrations.

The narrative voice is aggressively intellectual, but almost delirious, as Castel veers between self justification and self loathing, whilst trying desperately to fight against his own destructive impulses. But it’s also funny, and planted enough in reality that you can identify with his painful shyness, his jealousy, and his compulsion to find this woman and somehow ‘possess’ her. Anyone who has ever admired someone from afar, yet felt completely paralyzed when in their company will appreciate how brilliantly written these parts are.

Castel is well-named: he is an artist whose intellectual arrogance creates a castle in which his own psyche runs wild, uncompromised by the views of others. We follow him through the cold, hard passages of his mind as thoughts and fantasies feed on themselves and paint an increasingly perverted view of the world. Sabato creates another metaphor in the book’s title The Tunnel, referring to Castel’s sense of going through life cut off from everyone else.

The imagery is subtle yet satisfying, and the story echoes Camus’ The Outsider, although Castel is very much an Insider too, trapped in his own mind. There is irony too: as an abstract painter he cannot deal with the abstract responses of Maria, demanding empirical truth and solid facts. Denied them, he creates them for himself.


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The Tunnel