Category Archives: Viking

Last Stories by William Trevor

Last Stories Title: Last Stories
Author: William Trevor
Publisher: Viking, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241337769
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Of all that I have read of William Trevor’s work, one thing is certain: There is a sense of magic to his prose. His sentences take you by the hand, lead you on (you give in quite readily as well) and for sure you will never be disappointed. As a reader, you will be at a loss, because you loved every story and that hasn’t happened in a while with a short-story collection. You then realize that you after all read Trevor and make a promise to reread the collection and you do. Nothing sweeter than to honour this kind of a promise.

I am obviously referring to Trevor’s last collection of stories, posthumously published and aptly titled “Last Stories” (though I think to some extent that was very lazy). “Last Stories” is a collection of stories that is mysterious, enigmatic, sparse and yet spot on – the pace of the prose is languid and easy and somehow has the potential to draw you right into it.

Now to the stories. Trevor wrote of common men and women – those who are lost and are struggling to come to terms with life. I think after Alice Munro, Trevor is hands down my second favourite short-story writer. Every story that I have read by him has left a mark on my mind, heart and life.

All through the book what tugged at my heart is loneliness and longing that is consistent in almost every story. “Mrs Crasthorpe” is about a middle-aged widow who is only seeking companionship, only to be rebuffed later on in the story by a widower. It definitely broke my heart and that too with luscious prose at its center. And then there is “The Piano Teacher’s Pupil” which is perhaps the most cheerful story of the collection. Miss Nightingale is the protagonist of this story who has known a bit about disappointment in her life, who in her fifties is almost reminiscing about her sixteen-year-old affair with a married man. Like I said, loneliness and longing are at the heart of every story in this collection and Trevor doesn’t let you forget that.

In “At the Caffe Daria” a wife whose husband left her for her best friend, renews her relationship with friend, after the husband’s death. And then there is “The Unknown Girl” featuring Emily, a housecleaner who commits suicide after speaking of love to the son of the house. William Trevor knows the harshness of the real world and yet somehow his characters never let go of some hope, in whatever way and manner, even in death so to say.

His stories spell disaster, confusion and loss of innocence (if there was any) for his characters. They grow-up but perhaps a little later. Or they also grow-up a little sooner than expected. Life is unfair and unkind to them and yet they are survivors all along. “Last Stories” will remind you of his genius and make you wonder why he had to leave us so soon. A beauty of a book.

 

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Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

Whistle in the Dark Title: Whistle in the Dark
Author: Emma Healey
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241327623
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I read “Elizabeth Is Missing” some time ago and loved it. Having read that, I had very high expectations from “Whistle in the Dark” and thankfully it did not disappoint at all.

Jen and Hugh are a fairly ordinary couple – middle aged, middle class and not with too many aspirations, or so it seems. Their eldest daughter, Meg has left home. The younger one, Lana lives with them and is a recluse, like most teenagers, are meant to be. At the heart of it though, Lana is a troubled young girl, who is undergoing therapy and has tried to harm herself. Jen wants the closeness back with her daughter, so she takes her for a painting holiday to Peak District. Lana disappears for four whole days and is discovered, well and bruised and shaken, but alive.

Lana will not speak with her parents about it, no matter what. She says she doesn’t recall anything but Jen refuses to believe that. She is devastated by the loss of her daughter and relieved when they find her, but she can’t place her head around Lana’s inability to tell them what happened. Jen starts recreating in her head what could have happened, getting paranoid like any mother would, speaking to Lana’s friends, checking her social media accounts for traces and trying to scrutinize her memories of the trip. All of this is happening and Meg is being ignored, feeling left out.

“Whistle in the Dark” is about parents and children and the complex relationship they share. It is about loss, grieving and wondering what will happen when children will leave the nest and fly in the open sky. I loved the writing. It is frighteningly real, sharp, life-like and almost presents both sides of the story. Even though I am not a parent, somehow I could relate to Jen more than Lana. It was almost as if her pain and determination to protect her children, became immensely real.

“Whistle in the Dark” is a book that makes you think of the social dynamics of our times and what perhaps love is all about, parental love more than anything else. A read that is relevant, empathetic, and profound.

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard Title: The Deep End of the Ocean
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670865796
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 434
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I have always been a fan of the books Oprah has recommended on her book club. It all began in 2001 I think and since then I have read some of the old ones recommended by her and some of the old ones. So I have decided to read all the books chosen by her – one after the other. What better place to start than the very beginning, isn’t it?

The beginning came in the form of a dark, depressing and quite a hopeful book called, “The Deep End of the Ocean” by Jacquelyn Mitchard. When you read it, you cannot believe it is her debut. It is a story of a mother and her child and about every mother’s worst nightmare.

Beth Cappadora is at her school reunion, all ready to check-in to her room, only to turn around and realize that her 3-year old son is missing. Everything changes in a split second. Her relationship with her husband, her children, her relatives, all of it – it just goes to smoke as she perpetually is in a grieving mode.

I could not turn the pages enough of this one. It had me stuck from the word go. I would also suggest that you do not watch the movie of the same book as it just does not do justice to the book. While reading the book though, I felt myself grieving with Beth – almost scared to turn the page, to want good things to happen to her and her family. Mitchard’s writing is so simple and yet so heart-wrenching that if you are a parent you wouldn’t want to even imagine what would happen if this were to happen to you.

“The Deep end of the Ocean” does not disappoint one single bit. This was another book for which I shouldn’t have waited this long. I should have read it sooner. However, better late than never I guess.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit Title: The Faraway Nearby
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 9780670025961
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you read Rebecca Solnit, you are in effect reading a world. I don’t say this flippantly mind you. I say this with utmost earnestness because this is what her writing does to you. It makes you consider the world and what it is made of, what it is not and what it should be. It makes you think, feel and perhaps at some point change your life. I started my Rebecca Solnit journey when I read “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” which I highly recommend to one and all. This book that is “The Faraway Nearby” is all about storytelling and empathy in various forms and emotions as we live along the years.

“The Faraway Nearby” is a meditation of sorts – it quietly urges you to sometimes be alone and sometimes just observe the world as it goes by. I know maybe I am being too philosophical, but trust me when I say that this book makes you think logically and emotionally at the same time, which is a rare feat in itself.

So what is this book about?

It is about Solnit’s mother’s Alzheimer’s and the stories that weave through her childhood and adulthood, step by step as the disease unfolds itself and how those stories have helped her shape her life and destiny. It is also book the far-reaching impact of stories in our lives and how they make us who we are and stay with us right till the very end.

The book uncovers failed and successful relationships. It speaks of illness, mortality and its limitations, and of having an identity which is so prone to change and how to actually make it more stable. Solnit introspects all of this through a legacy of an abundant crop of apricots from a tree at her mother’s former home. The chapters are intertwined with memories, harsh realities and so many consolations in being alive and all of this is linked to the way those apricots are rotting and what she does with them.

“The Faraway Nearby” is an exploration, it is also a kaleidoscope, and it could also very well be just a manifesto on how to live (at least for me). It is not a self-help book. It does not preach. It does not sermonize. It just reflects and speaks of the world we live in and how stories and empathy are heavily dependent on each other.

Here are some quotes from the book to give you an idea of what the book is like:

“A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.”

“Books are solitudes in which we meet.”

“The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.”

“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is in the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates.A book is a heart that beats in the chest of another.”

“Pain serves a purpose. Without it you are in danger. What you cannot feel you cannot take care of.”

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Book Review: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma Title: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards
Author: Kristopher Jansma
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670026005
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Agent
Rating: 5/5

When one chances on a unique book, one doesn’t question it. One just reads and allows him or herself to get washed away in its beauty of words and language and so to say, enjoy the experience, for whatever time it lasts. There are very few works of art that manage to bring that out in me and when they do, then I do not think twice about giving in. The giving in process then takes place on its own. Before you know it, the novel has claimed you and you are in a trance. You wait for the book to be over and then want some more. The characters do not let go and you are waiting, wondering what to read next. This happens to me most of the time and it happened off-late when I finished reading, “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” by Kristopher Jansma.

It was the title that did it for me. Sometimes titles play a very important role in luring the reader to pick up the book and give it a go. I have always believed in that and this time as well, it worked for me. The book is about a writer who wants his life to change and thereby his tale begins. He is the narrator of the book and he is out there to confess it all – of all that took place and how he got to be where he is at.

The narrator is an enigma of sorts. He isn’t named throughout the book. His so-called nemesis is also his friend – Julian McGann is at the height of the literary peak and the narrator isn’t anywhere close to that. He is struggling with his book and only wants it to be the very best. Amidst all this but of course is a woman to sort of complete the story. Julian’s enchanting friend Evelyn, the mysterious girl who got away and the narrator hankers after. The narrator is almost caught in two worlds – that of fiction and reality, trying to make sense of life and his story.
Let me also tell you that this is a debut novel and it is beyond brilliant. Jansma has followed only one rule while writing this book: There are no rules to writing. To me that is a bold step, which totally works where the writing style is concerned. It sometimes reads as a meta-novel, sometimes just random sentences that come together beautifully and sometimes just confusing, which makes sense after a while.

There are losses along the way that the narrator faces and the reader’s heart goes out to him. The read is challenging. It does take some time to get into the skin of the characters, however once you are into it, you understand the method in the sort of madness. The story takes place almost around the globe, which to me was one of the other highlights. The pace works like a charm and before you know it, you are done with this rollercoaster of an experience. It is pleasure to absorb just about everything in this book. It is clever, funny, romantic and sullen as well. “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” is about life.

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