Category Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

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.

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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 Worm and the Bird by Coralie Bickford-Smith

The Worm and the Bird Title: The Worm and the Bird
Author: Coralie Bickford-Smith
Publisher: Particular Books, Penguin
ISBN: 9781846149221
Genre: Picture Book
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

 

Is it even a book read, if it is a picture book? I say, why not? A book is a book is a book. Different genres are still counted as books, isn’t it? Picture books read are still counted as read books according to me and that’s quite alright.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about, “The Worm and the Bird”.  This book is about a worm and a bird (as you might have rightly guessed, duh!) and the different things they want and how they almost get it or they do for that matter. Under the earth, the worm needs more space. Above the earth, the bird searches for something else. And that’s what the book is. Of course, what makes it so endearing are the illustrations and what one doesn’t expect (which I will not reveal) as well.

Coralie Bickford-Smith’s earlier book, “The Fox and the Star” was a delight and so is this one. “The Worm and the Bird” is also about the shortness of life, but it also rings true of how life should be lived. Being a picture book, it cannot get preachy at all, which it isn’t.

“The Worm and the Bird” is the kind of book which has to be read and appreciated by people of all ages. It is a lesson, but beyond that it is also to be read because of the stunning illustrations, the ink artwork and to get back to understand how stories are told.

Hush A Bye Baby by Deepanjana Pal

Hush A Bye Baby Title: Hush A Bye Baby
Author: Deepanjana Pal
Publisher: Juggernaut
ISBN: 978-9386228574
Genre: Suspense and Thriller
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Why am I reading this book?

Do you ask yourself this as you turn the page of a book you do not seem to enjoy? I know I have asked this question and dropped the book even without knowing the answer. Off-late it has happened a lot more, so I have become quite judicious about my choices. Do I want to read this at all? And if I do, why?

I am not a fan of the thriller genre. I enjoy it now and then but not a fan of the genre, so to say. “Hush A Bye Baby” by Deepanjana Pal on the other hand made me stay up all night, demanding to be read and for that I missed a Riverdale episode (I never miss a Riverdale episode. It is so bad that I love it!). Let me also add here that the experience was rewarding.

Now, within the first ten pages you know whodunit. So that’s that about this book. But why did she do what she did? For that you have to read the book, cover to cover.

The setting: Bombay (or Mumbai as you might choose to call it).

Plot, in brief (because if I say more about it, will you even read the book?): Dr. Nandita Rai is a well-known gynecologist. She consults celebrities and is on media every other week speaking of women’s issues. She is your not-so-typical South Mumbai feminist (a post on South Mumbai feminist is due later sometime). She is the poster girl for every expecting mother, till the police raid her clinic, when she is accused of sex selective abortions. And this is where the why comes into the picture. Enter: Sub-Inspector Reshma Gabuji who is relentless when it comes to this case and will go all out to uncover the truth.

This is the plot really. Of course, there is more but for review purposes, this shall suffice. Deepanjana’s take on Bombay is superb. I just wish there was more of Bombay. Nandita’s character checks all the right boxes, but my personal favourite was Reshma all the way. Both Nandita and Reshma are witty (that obviously comes from Deepanjana being that way and if you don’t know how witty she is, then you must watch her videos on YouTube), independent and gregarious women.

I loved how Deepanjana leaves so many clues and paces them well in the first-half of the book, keeping in pace with all the thrills. What didn’t work for me was the end, though it did make sense, just that I felt it was too rushed. At the same time, what worked brilliantly (amongst so many other things) was the fact that finally someone in India wrote about sex-selective abortions and women’s rights – all rolled in to a pot-boiler, page-turner thriller. It drives the point home without being too pedantic. There are other secrets as well that come out from the closet, but like I said, for that you have to read the book.

“Hush A Bye Baby” is all that you will expect from a thriller and it will deliver that and more. A perfect flight-read or a summer afternoon read when you think you have nothing to do, but you can read. So read this book already.

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.