Tag Archives: emma

Polite Society by Mahesh Rao

PS Title: Polite Society
Author: Mahesh Rao
Publisher: Penguin Random House India, Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0670091003
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I remember being on the fiftieth page and wanting to give up reading, “Polite Society”. I mean I had read Emma multiple times and saw no reason to continue with the shenanigans of the Delhi elite. It just didn’t make sense to me. Till I persisted of course and then too I wouldn’t really call it a smooth-sailing ride, oh but what moments we had – the book and I. It was read everywhere. I carried it everywhere with me – from the South of Mumbai (which the characters would approve of) to the North of Mumbai (don’t roll your eyes now, come on, be kind or at least pretend to be) to places I shall not mention here, but you get the drift.

So, we know “Polite Society” is modelled after Emma by Austen. Austen brings it out in us – as writers and readers to take the imaginary baton and pass it on, keep passing it on, and more so till something can be done with it. When something isn’t Aisha (thank God for that) or even Bride and Prejudice (thank Heavens, I left in the interval), and something then becomes a Bridget Jones’ Diary (the sequel was a disaster) or even Polite Society (the right turn on the 75th page or so).

“Polite Society” is an out and out, witty and most certainly a satire that you just cannot put down after a couple of chapters in. Might I also add, that it is dangerous and quite risky to adapt an Austen novel. It isn’t about the time or the characters or even relevance (some works are universal and break through barriers of time, no matter what), it is about the urgency, the speed, the context needs to drive fast in this time and age and not languid as Emma or Mansfield Park is. Rao takes care of that aspect brilliantly.

Set in contemporary Lutyens’ Delhi, we meet Ania Khurana, a native of Prithviraj Road. From the first page, you know that you have bumped into Emma. Miss Taylor is Renu bua, Ania’s unmarried aunt who she eventually sets up with Colonel Rathore. Dimple of course is modelled after Miss Harriet who is Ania’s special project to work on. Mr. Knightley is Dev, a close friend of the Khuranas. And the stage is set, well almost.

We all then know how it proceeds, don’t we? Ania is a 20-something who just is a meddler and thinks she can make matches, after she sets up her aunt with Colonel Rathore. All she wants now is to find a great match for Dimple, which of course she fails at miserably. So, what is different in this book you ask? Isn’t it just like Emma? Well, I revere Austen and everything she ever wrote, including her letters. I think for the major part so does Rao. Actually, throughout the book that is.

Till the third portion of the book when things become darker and oh so yummy! There are a lot of twists and turns which as a reader you will not see coming and which as a reviewer, I just cannot disclose (spoilers and all that, you know). The framework of Emma is intact, and yet Rao has given himself and the characters more than enough room to play and act out on their own. The style of writing also veers right from the very beginning – an almost mocking tone used for Lutyens’ Delhi and what they represent. Unlike Austen, who wrote in the third person, Rao takes the route of making his characters visible – they are transparent to the reader and have the much-needed gravitas.

At the same time in “Polite Society”, Rao’s maturity comes from the auxiliary factors – the sights, the smells, the touch and what Delhi and its people are made of. There is the sense of discomfort present in all characters – it’s as though they are aware of their shortcomings and flaws and yet will never call them out for what they are. There are neat sub-plots, that when mingle as well do not cause confusion or stir up a storm for the reader.

What is also of interest is how Rao’s characters demand empathy and in more than one-way Mahesh Rao gives it to them straight up. Whether it is Dimple’s dilemma at balancing Ania’s decisions and hers at the same time, or Ania’s failed attempts over and over again, there is always empathy. There are no caricaturist Austen-inspired genteel creatures so to say. The world of Lutyens’ Delhi as presented in “Polite Society” is cleverly funny and satirical, though sometimes it might feel a tad bit exaggerated. There is a lot of back and forth in the plot structure and sometimes internalisation, but it is needed to propel the book. All in all, “Polite Society” is a very interesting and dynamic read, which most of the times comes into its own, and away from the shadow of Austen.

Advertisements

Her by Harriet Lane

Her by Harriet Lane Title: Her
Author: Harriet Lane
Publisher: W & N
ISBN: 978-1780220024
Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about this book on various online forums and sites. I was quite excited as well to read it. I finally read and finished it today. The book is very well-written, that’s for sure, and it’s just that I was a bit disappointed by the twist in the tale. Having said that, I give it four stars only because of the writing and the atmosphere Harriet Lane has managed to conjure in her book “Her”.

“Her” is a story of two women – Nina and Emma. Both are almost of the same age and living in London. They come from two different worlds and lead two very different lives. While Nina is a successful artist, Emma is a housewife who feels mostly stifled being at home and taking care of her children. And yet when they meet, there is something that draws them to each other, something almost unexplainable. Till the reader understands that Nina is up to something while meeting Emma (well sort of understand, rather, the reader can only guess). Why is Nina interested in Emma? Why does she have this obsession which is so subtle and yet there?

The book is chilling. It is also quite an intriguing read. Lane’s writing is sharp and has a lot of detailing that only helps build the suspense. I loved how Emma’s housewife ennui is explained throughout and how Nina’s perspectives are portrayed. Both women’s stories unravel through their views of similar situations, told in alternating chapters.

My only grouse was the build-up to the end in the penultimate chapter. I just had a problem with that part. The ending however is so brilliant that it will leave you with your jaw dropping. This thriller is interwoven with the past and the present and explores human psychology with great casualty. It is quite shocking to see Nina’s character build and do the things that she does with such calm.

You must read this book for the plot, for the characterization, for the way the women are depicted, for the details and above all for a good chill running through your spine.

My Top 10 Fictional Heroines

Yes! Yes! and Yesses some more…I have been waiting to write this post for a very long time now and finally I will, about my Top 10 Heroines in Fiction. They are brash and sassy and know no boundaries. They are independent and live on their terms and conditions. They know no rejection or fear, and yet they love with a passion unknown to men. These are women I have admired growing up and love them to tiny bits. Here goes:

1. Catherine Earnshaw: No where can I find such a heroine who is mad with love for Heathcliff and yet hates him with a vengeance. She hopes he dies at one point in the book and regrets it so much. Catherine is a woman of contradictions and vulnerability – the irony kills me everytime I read “Wuthering Heights”. She is free spirited and beautiful, but can also be spiteful and arrogant. She is a wild animal and sees herself only with her one true love – Heathcliff.

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and [Edgar’s] is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” -Catherine Earnshaw, Chapter IX

2. Dominique Francon: She is a smoldering siren. The one who Roark rapes and she loves it. She is the woman behind the sole standing man, Howard Roark. I believe she is the fountainhead of the book, who wants to keep everything sacred in her man, who rather destroy him herself than let him be taken advantage of by the world. Such is Dominique Francon.

I wish I had never seen your building. Its the things that we   admire or want that enslave us, Im not easy to   bring into submission.

3. Miss Havisham: There is nothing more beautiful in a character than unspeakable obsession. The bridal dress is never removed. She is waiting for her groom to the verge of madness. The random nature of her revenge is not so random after all. She drives Estella to hate men. I love this character. She is a lady with a heart and its broken.

4. Becky Sharp: She lives up to her name. Her wit and sharp edge of sarcasm makes Vanity Fair a delicious read. She is witty, sexy and sandy-haired. Becky is from an impoverished background and makes no qualms about it. She is hungry – for rich men and power.

Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural

5. Anna Karenina: From the time we are first introduced to her on a railway coach to the time she has an affair with Vronsky to her ultimate death at the very station where she first lands in the book, Tolstoy knew she would be his greatest heroine and she was. No one can touch the honesty of Anna.

6. Madame Bovary: Alright, bring out your little black books and please do not let them be provincial as Madame is in the house. It must have been difficult to please three men in one book, but not for this one. She epitomised beauty, slander, sexual desire and above all the act of being human. You go girl!

7. Emma: Jane Austen’s Emma is so very human. She is always plunging into such embarrassing mistakes – and yet they’re the mistakes one longs to make oneself, like telling the tediously garrulous Miss Bates to shut up. And, bless her, she is truly ashamed when she does, because she is actually very nice. Nicer than I am by a long way.

8. Sumire: She is not known to many (just like the way she would have liked it). She wants to be a writer and gets lost for the love of a woman. She is passionate and does not know how to dress well. She is the object of affection of K who can never have her. Loosely put, she is the best. You have to read Sputnik Sweetheart to believe what I am saying. Trust me.

9. Scarlett O’Hara: Try as I might I cannot ignore this cat. She had it all – the style, the attitude and the ambition. She wanted what she got, well most of the time. She could make clothes out of curtains and look stunning. According to me, Scarlett could have done anything. Anything at all.

10. Holly: Who can forget her at all? I for one cannot. From being Lulu Mae to Holly – the life of a party, to a call girl who has to but make her money. Holly Golightly was everything that Capote ever wanted to be and he made her come alive in more than one way.

You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long.  You’re sad, that’s all.  But the mean reds are horrible.  You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of.  Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is. 

And these are my women…No not jezebels. They are only human, in their defense…You’re always a woman to me…