Tag Archives: depression

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: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

Title: Beside the Sea
Author: Veronique Olmi
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 9780956284020
Price: £8.99
Source: Publisher
Genre: Translated Work, French Fiction, Novella, Literary Fiction
PP: 111 Pages
Rating: 5/5

What would drive a mother to kill her own children? Why would she do that? Which mother ever does that? What must be the situation or circumstance that propelled such behaviour? I had these questions raging in my mind, when I read about 3 weeks ago in the local newspaper, that a woman had flung her 2 children – aged 6 and 11 years old and then took the path of suicide herself. She could not handle the stress at home and her husband wasn’t supportive of her choices either. I stared at her picture for the longest time and then it struck me that I studied with her. She was almost my classmate. We knew each other. I had once upon a time laughed with her. I could not get her out of my head for the longest time and she still lingers there somehow.

The reason I mentioned all of this is when I started reading, “Beside the Sea”, my thoughts time and again centred on her and her children. The book is about a nameless mother and her two children Stan and Kevin and their trip beside the sea. The story is set in a nameless town – grey and dark and full of rain and mud. There is no mention of any colour in the entire book and may be that is how it is supposed to be, given the plot and the atmosphere. Well the story hinges on the two day trip and aftermath. I had to give the spoiler away since I had to mention what I was going through and what I had experienced.

This is no joyful jaunt to sun, surf and sand. Instead, we discover a deeply disturbed mother, already on the edge, afraid for the life of poverty and exclusion that she fears her boys are destined to lead. Determined to give them at least one happy memory, she takes them on a holiday that she cannot afford and has not properly planned.

We are introduced to the two little boys, Stan and Kevin, through the eyes of their mother allowing us to develop a proxy parental concern for them. The story is told from within their mother’s mind but she remains nameless, allowing us to feel empathy for her while still keeping her at arms distance.

Seeing the experiences of this family through the eyes of the boys gives a sense of wonder and delight, but the covering veil of the mother’s thoughts and emotions and the constant presence of rain give the story a continual sense of darkness that leads to a disharmony – a sense that something is not quite right.

My head was empty when I finished reading this book. I don’t know why. I know and yet the book shook me in several ways, ways I did not think it was capable of. The book takes you by surprise (or may be by shock?) and manages to make you think long after you have finished reading the book. I thought the translation was perfect considering it was originally written in French by Veronique Olmi. The writing is perfect, neither too less and nor too much – anyway that’s how a novella should be written, isn’t it? I did not want to know more at the end of it. I was satisfied. I have had a roller-coaster of an emotional ride while reading this beautiful work. So must you.  

You can purchase the book here on Flipkart

Crowded Rooms: Stories by Premnath

I guess I have never enjoyed reading short stories as much as I enjoyed reading this collection by Premnath. Crowded Rooms is sure going to haunt me for a while and that too quite strongly if I may add. Why you ask? Well for one the 9 stories in this book are not your usual run-of-the-mill tales and second they have what it takes to make the reader ponder long after you have finished reading the book.

Everyone seemed to be calling everyone and there was no explanation why”. Consider this line. It is simple and yet so stark. It defines the way we are living and yet so effectively. This is from the first story in the book “The Room with the Lamps” and is about Maya and her lamps and one crazy night in the city. About meaningless vandalism and how guilt makes people do senseless things – for no rhyme or reason.

It wasn’t a surprise to see and realize that every story was centred around and was about urban existence. About how we value our possessions and may be are so entwined in them that we fail to see life for what it is.

Where were all the beautiful, people, the sunny beaches, the chatty hosts, the trees and the mountains?”  This line is from the second story in the book, “TV is Good”, and is about an angry television that comes looking for his master who dared to turn him off. And another one of an Office Memo coming to life – dreamlike metaphors and holds such truths for our times. While in, “The Chronicles of a Saturday Evening” something unseemingly occurs that leads to to people coming close. One of the best stories in the entire collection.

 The stories as the title suggests are about spaces – the ones that we inhabit and the ones that we forget to look or think about along the way. The stories encapsulate lives we have seemed to forgotten – the small joys and sometimes the small bites of pang that surface unexpectedly.

Crowded Rooms: Stories; Premnath; Penguin India; Rs. 199

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I happened to read The Bell Jar for my book group discussion for the month of November and instantly fell in love with the book. More than anything else I think it was Esther and her descriptions that absolutely gripped me from the very first word.

While reading the book, many times I tried to question my own sanity and what I was going through and quite surprisingly this book I felt dealt with so many issues that we all go through some or the other time in our lives. Esther’s struggle with issues and people around her gave me an inkling into what was I facing with people around me. It’s not more of madness than being sane that made me love this book and what it stands for – probably suffocation, probably the need to get away so many times when we are unable to do so. The probability of meeting someone nice and sensitive which never really works that way.

Grappling with oneself and situations can be quite a thing to undertake. Most of the times, many of us choose to push things under the rug without paying attention to our thoughts and problems. Esther on the other hand chooses to look inside and find answers which probably is best summed up in the following lines from the book,

“How did I know that someday–at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere–the bell jar, with it’s stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”

This quote becomes all the more poignant when one discovers that only a month after The Bell Jar, her first novel, was published, Sylvia Plath took her own life. One wonders if things would have been different had she lived today. All in all The Bell Jar is one of the books in my life, which I will never let go…

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

So when I laid my hands on “What I Thought I Knew” (actually it was sent to me as I wanted a review copy), I read the synopsis and thought to myself: How different could this memoir be from the others that I have read? Each memoir consists of the same ingredients anyway (as though writers dish recipes out – freshly baked!), don’t they? I am glad that I was mistaken and proved wrong.

When I started reading the book, to be very honest I could not put it down and I am not just saying this because I received a review copy. I am saying this because though I am not a woman, I felt for Alice and what she was going through. More than that I guess I knew it was not easy for her and yet she was there – facing it all and emerged a different person.

Who would not? Imagine that you are a 44 year-old woman living life the way you are supposed to. Your career has never looked better. Your boyfriend and daughter seem the only world to you. Everyday seems like a blessing and that’s precisely when you think something will happen (its true, I completely agree with this theory)and it does. You feel your stomach turning hard and wonder what is wrong with me? You have been diagnosed as being infertile in the past and before you know it you are six months into pregnancy and without a clue.

I can’t begin to imagine what would have been my state had I been in that situation. To add to which you have a history of ailments in your family which could either endanger you or the baby. There is a lot to what meets the eye in the book and one has to only dig deeper while reading it. The emotions. The chaos. The battle at some point to take a stand and make a moral decision. The idea of loving a child, who may be you were not prepared for. Its true. How does one do it?

That’s the beauty of the book, according to me. It is real and honest. Alice does not mince her words or her feelings and I love that. It is a rollercoaster ride of emotions that all must venture to ride at least once. Go read it! It is brilliant.