Tag Archives: 2017 Reads

The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls Trilogy Title: The Country Girls Trilogy: The Country Girls; The Lonely Girl; Girls in their Married Bliss
Author: Edna O’Brien
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571330539
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 704
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

So, it took me close to three weeks to finish this trilogy and I really wish those three weeks had not ended this soon. After having heard so much about Edna O’Brien and her writing, this was the first time I was reading something by her (one of her most famous works) and I just cannot wait to lay my hands on more works by her. On an off-note, a lot of people ask me, how every read of mine ends up being five stars or four stars for me? Well, that’s because I pick what I know for sure I will love reading. I think more people should do that. Read what they know they will love, irrespective. Anyway, back to the Country Girls Trilogy.

The country girls are Kate (Caithleen Brady) and Baba (Bridget Brennan) and the trilogy as you must have guessed is about them. It is about their stories that begin the regressive setting of a small village in the west of Ireland in the years following World War II. Kate is looking for love. Baba on the other hand, is a survivor. All that they want is a life that isn’t handed to them, but what they make of it. With hopes and dreams and out to conquer it all, they arrive in Dublin and that’s where the story plays out. The bad choices made, the bad sex had, the bad friends, the bleakness of living and in all of this, the resilience and not to forget the expectations they have of themselves and what is thrust upon by them from society.

O’Brien has written this trilogy with a lot of heart and soul. It is wryly funny too and there are pockets of so much warmth that you cannot help but hoot for Kate and Baba. Initially I thought I wasn’t going to feel anything for these characters, however, as the story plays out, they become a part of your everyday tapestry, through the similarities and differences. Sure, you cannot relate to the Ireland of the 60’s and sure it is all very different now, everywhere in the world (is it?) but the slice of life is what is pertinent and stays relevant to a large extent.

“The Country Girls Trilogy” is a read perfect for winter. Something about it which I cannot put my finger on – maybe the melancholy factor or the transition from hope to despair and vice-versa or even the frivolous to the profound swinging of thoughts and emotions, all in all a read that you must not miss out on.

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Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos.jpg Title: Welcome to Lagos
Author: Chibundu Onuzo
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571268955
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“Welcome to Lagos” is a delightful read. It is about strangers who meet on a bus – from different walks of life and end up sharing their burdens, their hopes and above all their fears as they enter Lagos. They are runaways from Bayelsa and all in search of a better life. It wouldn’t have mattered where the story of this book would have been set. The beauty of the book lies in its plot and structure. It could have been any city. Onuzo chose a city that is close to her heart – where she grew up – Lagos and it comes through stunningly in this book.

There are moments of joy and then there are those tragic moments in this book that make you want to jump in and hug those characters. To tell them that it will all be okay and things aren’t so bad. The book is political to a very large extent as well, but what sets it apart from the other books on Lagos (fiction and non-fiction) is that there is a lot of soul and heart in this one. Onuzo portrays her hometown’s history and situation lucidly through her characters’ eyes.

Chike, a soldier who has deserted an army unit after being disillusioned by his commanding officer. There is Fineboy, a militant who is more interested in radio and deals than violence. Isoken – a woman who has lost her family and come too close to losing her autonomy. Oma, a wife who is fleeing her husband and Yemi, Chike’s right-hand man who is an illiterate and yet is deeply rooted to his country’s welfare and history. These are the five characters that Onuzo introduces us to and makes the fabric of their lives intricately connected to ours. These renegades prefer to go about their lives quietly and yet as their paths converge with that of an unwilling benefactor, the story turns itself on its head.

There is endurance of spirit in the book. A lot of compassion between characters for each other which I loved the most. Lagos’s vibrancy, cultural exuberance and the tribal traditions are succinctly brought out in Onuzo’s writing. The book is graceful, almost soft in its approach. There is violence for sure, but Onuzo shows us the Nigeria that she belongs to, the Nigeria her characters belong to and how they go about life and love in all the conflict that is within.

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee

Draft No. 4 Title: Draft No. 4: On The Writing Process
Author: John McPhee
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374142742
Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing Skills, Essays
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have read books on reading. I have read books on writing as well. But off-late no book on writing has made me laugh and “Draft No. 4” managed to do that. It made me chuckle and kept my spirits high and also in its own way told me that it is okay to not get that sentence correct, that it is alright to not stress over punctuation sometimes and also that there will be times that you will not be able to write. It broke a lot of writing fallacies that are out there and made me see writing in a whole new way.

Also, if you have to learn about a subject, then why not turn to one of the very best? John McPhee is a professor of journalism at Princeton, writes for The New Yorker and has published over thirty books. Let me also tell you that “Draft No. 4” could have easily fallen in the trap of being preachy and pedantic, which it doesn’t. McPhee makes you see how writing is – truly is for those who are writers and also for those who want to become writers.

What I loved about the book is that I could identify with most of it. For instance, McPhee states that while you might write for only two to four hours a day, your mind is working twenty-four hours on the book. He also mentions of “the elegance in the less ambiguous ways” – for instance, the turn of the phrase or where to place the bracket words (he does get to technique as well).

This is a collection of essays that doesn’t take away from the joy of writing. It lends to it beautifully. He of course says and advises the way he has to, but also gives you room to come up with your comfort rules of writing. The ones that actually work for you. So why must you read this book then? Because it will open your mind to going back to the basics of writing (which is what every writer says but most don’t really know what they are talking about) and implement them in your way to your advantage. McPhee makes it seem simple (not without mentioning its cons and the power of writing to drive you crazy sometimes) and at the same time ironically tells you that your fourth draft perhaps will be the best one, ready to publish.

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature by Bill Goldstein

The World Broke In Two Title: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature
Author: Bill Goldstein
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805094022
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To want to read a book since a while and then to actually read it and not be disappointed by it is kicking Murphy’s behind. I had to say this because I was apprehensive about whether or not I would enjoy reading “The World Broke in Two”. I love books centered around literary events and what happened in the past between authors and what were the circumstances like. You get the drift. This book is about the year 1922 and four authors that changed the course of English Literature – Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Stearns Eliot, and Edward Morgan Foster. Each battling with their personal demons and on the side trying to make sense of their professional lives and where they fit in in the scheme of things.

“The World Broke in Two” is a fascinating read and I don’t mean it in the loose sense of the word. I really do mean it. If you have interest in history, books, the creative process, and more so the changes that took place after WWI, then this is the book for you. I don’t mean to broaden the scope of this book, but it can be classified over genres and that is also the beauty of this title.

What I loved the most about this book is how Goldstein brings to fore the various writing processes of these four authors. He describes the process in detail, not to forget the anguish of these writers, the self-loathing at most times and how they also learned from each other. For instance, how E.M. Forster learned from Woolf when she gave him a copy of Jacob’s room. The book is layered with anecdotes and what is wondrous is that it is almost like a Russian doll when it comes to discovering more books to read for a novice reader. Goldstein very tactfully blends the historical with the literary – neither of which feel too much of at any given point in the book. The book if anything, reads like a novel.

Goldstein does not shy away from speaking of the authors’ mental and physical challenges and how they sometimes became an impediment and at others a catalyst to surge ahead. “The World Broke in Two” is a stunning read about four authors, the worlds inhabited by them and at the core of it, their writing which is paramount to this book.

Fresh Complaint: Stories by Jeffrey Eugenides

Fresh Complaint Title: Fresh Complaint: Stories
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374203061
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Jeffrey Eugenides’ writing has come a long way. Who am I to judge that? His ardent fan. One of his ardent fans, who could not get enough of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex or The Marriage Plot (weakest among the three and yet, I loved it to bits). One of his fans who cannot stop raving about his new book “Fresh Complaint”, a collection of short stories that shows family love, discovery of the self, adolescence, identity and what it means to be American (well, not all the time) through ten stunning stories (two of them which I found to be off, but loved them nonetheless).

I have also always believed that writing short stories is way more difficult than the novel. Short stories have to be taut. You cannot take liberties with time and space as you would in a novel and that makes them even more difficult when it comes to engaging with readers. In Eugenides’ stories we meet people who are broken, who are whole, who go through life in a daze and some who think they have it all under control and stumble only to realize that this isn’t the life they wanted anyway.

My favourite stories in this collection are “Baster” – which is funny and yet so tragic and also “Air Mail” – which is about Mitchell whose story was left hanging in The Marriage Plot and this story somewhat gives it closure. “Complainers”, the first story in the collection is about dementia, old age and above all of the beautiful friendship two women share over the years. And last but not the least, I absolutely could not get enough of the title story. “Fresh Complaint” is a story that could very well have been a novel. It is the story of a high school student whose wish to escape her immigrant family has consequences on a British physicists’ life beyond repair.

Characters in this collection are not kind all the time. They are just human. Eugenides allows his characters to make their mistakes, live their dreams and see regrets for what they are. He takes you to uncomfortable places and is not apologetic about it. These stories date from 1989 to 2017, out of which eight were previously published (I hadn’t read any). “Fresh Complaint” is a collection of stories that are real, insightful and dark, allowing characters to hide, to be seen and not without some humour as well.