Category Archives: women writers

Read 9 of 2022. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Title: Mrs. Dalloway
Author: Virginia Woolf
Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 978-0-593-31180-6
Genre: Classics
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This was my fourth reading of Mrs. Dalloway. The fourth time when I would go back to the book, as if it were the first time, and it would reveal itself a little more, another insight, maybe not, maybe just the usual run-of-the-mill circadian novel that it is, but not monotonous. Never uninteresting, and most certainly never out of touch with the contemporary landscape of emotion and thought.

Mrs. Dalloway is a book about community than just one person. It is about illness, suffering, love, sensations that merge together in sentences that portray that at every page. Clarissa is a protagonist who isn’t likeable and yet you relate, you empathise, you find yourself being a part of her world – and more than anything of the banal every day. Whether it is through the life of Septimus Smith or that of Peter Walsh or even Rezia – who is the most sympathetic character, it is all the every day. A Groundhog Day kind of scenario, but the one that is perhaps bearable, tolerable to read during a pandemic – the prose saves you.

So, then what is Mrs. Dalloway about? A day in the life of someone who wants to throw a party? A day in the lives of people who are as confused and torn apart in a world that didn’t opt to live in?  Why do so many readers, year on year, want to read Mrs. Dalloway? What is it about this novel? Maybe because the characters are flawed and fail constantly. Maybe because it is about younger generations, trying to find a way after the war and not knowing what to do. It is about Clarissa’s regret – of being married to the wrong person and not being able to make the choices she wanted to. It is about declaration of life, and yet ironically not living. It is about how Peter and Clarissa move through the party and the incidents that occur during the course of a single day – merging the past, the present, and the probable future.

The inner lives of characters more than just shine through Woolf’s writing. They gleam, they break apart, and they also reflect the lack of profundity. There is a lot of suffering – some latent and some on the surface, and there is no redemption for anyone. Mrs. Dalloway is constantly asking questions that one cannot answer: Why do we die? Why must we die? What is living? It asks this of a world that is ignorant to them – a world that engages in a party, in life, in the hopeless optimism that life is worth something, only to realize the mediocrity of the living, and even then to turn a blind eye to it.

Read 229 of 2021. To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

9781529077506

Title: To Paradise
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1529077476
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 720
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To Paradise isn’t A Little Life. It will not break your heart. It will not make you cry. It will not torment you days after you finish it. It will not haunt you or your memories. It is not that kind of a book. But what it is – for its writing, multiple plots, characters that are engaging and well-fleshed out, it is about family and relationships and how we are forever stuck or not with them, it is about inheritance, and passion, love and lack of it, and more so about Hawai’i.

It is not The People in the Trees, yet there is enough science for people who loved that one. It isn’t what you think it is – even though the blurb is given, and you think you know what this book is about, but you do not. To Paradise is nothing like I have read this year, and this is what I expect of Yanagihara.

To Paradise is divided into three parts and each part feels like a different novel. I failed to see the larger connect and that to me is alright, because I will reread it and see where I missed out. The first story is set in an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is a part of the Free States where anyone can do what they please, love and marry whoever they want – it all seems very idyllic. The nubile and young scion of a very distinguished family David is smitten by a music teacher Edward, who has nothing to show for, when he is almost betrothed to a wealthy suitor Charles, way older than him and perhaps incapable of understanding him. Yanagihara’s characters take time to grow and for readers to even get to know them. It is almost a slow-burn of a novel in that sense.

The second part of the novel plays out in 1993 Manhattan with the AIDS epidemic taking more lives by the minute. This part of the novel looks at the relationship of a son and father, both Davids this time. The son, David is living with his older and richer lover Charles and the father is combating a serious illness, contemplating on life – past and present through a series of monologues. This by far was my favourite section of the novel. Yanagihara writes prose like no other. Even though like I said this book isn’t traumatic, it has its moments of melancholy, grief, and loss.

The last part of the novel is set in a not-so-distant future where pandemics are a common thing and charts the relationship between a grandfather, Charles and his granddaughter Charlie. This is the part where science (as it played out beautifully in The People in the Trees) comes to fore along with questions of identity, climate change, and uncertainty.

The themes of the book are so large and interconnected that it makes you want to keep turning the pages. Love, loss, loneliness, the need for someone, shame, death and fear keep getting played out in several ways. The writing is taut and perfect. Not a beat is missed, and nothing is out of place. The book may seem chunky, but it is needed. Yanagihara works on details – this is the only way to get to know her characters and understand the world she creates.

To Paradise left me stumped as well in a lot of places – there are a lot of questions unanswered, too many loose ends that weren’t tied, too much left for assumption, but it is alright. I think some books are meant to be that way. I will most certainly reread it when it is officially out in January.

Read 220 of 2021. Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Title: Assembly
Author: Natasha Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company ISBN: 978-0316268264
Genre: Novella, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Assembly is a short book that will leave you gasping for breath.

Assembly is a book that shows you the mirror. It tells you what you think, feel, and where you stand about people who are different than you.

Assembly is candid, it is raw, its prose is direct and scathing. It aims to destroy stereotypes, beliefs, the perceptions we hold, and how we conduct ourselves, sometimes with masks we wear.

Assembly is about a young woman who is struggling and navigating in a world of racism and differentiation. A young black British woman living day to day surrounded by privileged people – at work and further into her boyfriend’s world of white.

Assembly is about disease and how choosing not to do anything about it is also a sign of protest, given the times we live in.

Assembly is about the number of ways in which racism cripples a person – takes the very soul out of the body, and all you have is second-guessing, withered memories, and exhaustion.

Assembly is potent. It says what it has to say in less than 100 pages and does a damn good job of it.

Assembly is about inequalities and about how one is told to live throughout their life – by climbing the social ladder. Put your head down and work hard, till you don’t want to do that anymore.

Assembly is about the choices we make, the situations we are bound by, the decisions made for us basis the colour of the skin, and how sometimes it is all about regaining your agency.

Assembly is all of this and so much more. It is a book that makes you question, rethink, unlearn, learn, and figure what is going on in your sheltered, bubble of a world. It makes you notice.

Read 219 of 2021. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

Title: The Book of Form and Emptiness
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1838855239
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All I am going to say is this, if you haven’t Ruth Ozeki, now is the time and no better book to start with than this one. The Book of Form and Emptiness has to be one of my top 10 favourites of the year. It shines, it dazzles, it makes you believe in the not so believable aspects of life and living, but above all – the writing is splendid. It has the touch of lightness to it, without it being it. Ruth Ozeki has done it again and deserves two rounds of applause.

The Book of Form and Emptiness is about a boy named Benny Oh whose father Kenji, a Korean American jazz musician is run over by a chicken truck in an alley behind their house. And this is where the story begins. A story of grief, loss, even humour to some extent, hope, and how we redeem ourselves from the guilt we hold inside. Soon after, Benny starts hearing voices from inside everything. From his dead father’s clarinet to objects around the house to the lettuce in the fridge to furniture to everything in sight – each clamouring for their own attention and space. They all tell Benny their stories – of pain, of laughter, of histories of abuse and how they were handled.

Things are going downhill for his mother Anabelle as well. Benny and she constantly fight, as she refuses to let go of things and hoards more and more, and he cannot help but want to get rid of things as they speak and speak and speak. In all of this, Ozeki speaks of complex neurodivergent subjectivity in some form, touches on Benny’s journey into the schizoaffective, leading him to one of the quietest spots – the library. Even though books also speak with him, especially one specific book. At the library, he finds love and philosophy in two very different people – one a street artist, and the other a homeless philosopher-poet.

The Book of Form and Emptiness is about everything and nothing at all. It is about all of it – rolled into one – about space junk, about life on the margins, toxic masculinity, of Zen Buddhism, bad weather, of coping mechanisms, and above all about how humans come together and find love in most unexpected places.

Ozeki’s writing is magnificent. Almost like a painting or a movie. Her writing is constantly in motion and that makes the reader want to keep pace or just lay languidly without turning the page. The writing gives you the comfort and luxury to do that. The book is also about books to a large extent – of how books save us and what role they play in our lives. Ozeki writes carefully about mental health and trauma, with most empathy and grace. Ozeki’s world is surreal, it is haunting, it is not perfect, and definitely not absolute. It is messy, jagged, demands attention, and perhaps talks about things that truly matter or should matter to human beings, given our small lives.

Read 214 of 2021. Dog Flowers: A Memoir by Danielle Geller

Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller

Title: Dog Flowers: A Memoir
Author: Danielle Geller
Publisher: One World
ISBN: 978-1984820396
Genre: Memoirs
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is the thing about family and memories. No matter what, there is always more to uncover, to know, to also maybe understand and comprehend. Perhaps this also holds true for most families, maybe even every family when it comes to secrets, legacies, with what one may call tropes such as redemption, but it is only living.

Geller’s memoir goes beyond the personal. It talks about the political as well, as perhaps a good memoir should. When Danielle’s mother passes away, she leaves behind eight suitcases of worldly possessions. The eighth suitcase is full of letters, photographs, and journals. Dog Flowers is an attempt by Danielle to get to know her mother and her identity in the process of archiving what was left behind.

Geller and her sister were raised by her paternal grandmother since her mother’s alcohol addiction was way out of control. On top of that, she couldn’t provide for her children. In the process of being neglected by her mother, Geller gradually distances herself from the identity handed from her maternal side – the Navajo identity. After her mother’s death, Danielle travels to the reservation to get to know her extended family, and at the same time to find some closure.

Dog Flowers is written in a very matter-of-fact manner. There are no theatrics in the writing, nor there is drama. It is how it is. The memoir is moving but not sentimental or maudlin. It depicts and brings vulnerability to the surface but doesn’t get overwhelming. Dog Flowers also perhaps tells us how to make peace with the demons of the past and let them be. Geller’s book is definitely a must-read in the genre.