Tag Archives: Farrar

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos

Title: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables
Author: David Bellos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374223236
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Literary Criticism
Pages: 307
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

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I love books about books. There is something magical about them that cannot be ignored, say what you will. Books talking about books is almost surreal – not even meta, it is just something that makes you want to pick up the books that are being spoken about and reread them or read them if you haven’t already. This is what happened to me when I finished reading “The Novel of the Century” by David Bellos.

This book is about Les Misérables and how it came to be. I remember watching Les Misérables – the movie when it released (the one starring Anne Hathaway) and crying. I couldn’t get enough of it and surprisingly I hadn’t read the book. I had to change that. I did read the book soon after and was mesmerised by it. I mean the characters – Inspector Jarvet, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and even the minor ones that play such an important role in this book of power, politics and love. I can see how it came to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century or the greatest, I think.

David Bellos takes a leap and writes about this book. How did it come to me? Why was it written? What was Victor Hugo thinking when he wrote this? How did he come about such characters? What Bellos also does is explain why this novel fascinates us (most of us at least) and how it places itself so beautifully in the modern context. To me, that was the most favourite parts in the book.

Bellos’ research is spot on. I was reading a lot about the book and the times in which it was set while reading The Novel of the Century and that to me is the best thing an author can do to you while he is writing about another book. The writing then is truly powerful. This is also not a biography of Victor Hugo but of course it has to trace his life briefly and how he came to write Les Mis. The angle of prostitution in those times, religion playing such a major role and also just how women survived is fascinating when Bellos brings it to the fore.

“The Novel of the Century” isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. It is for people who love Les Misérables or perhaps want to really read it sometime in the future. Having said that, I couldn’t get enough of Bellos’s writing – crisp, to the point and very meticulous with his research. At times, I almost felt like I was watching the movie or reading the book again. The characters I went back to welcomed me back and I for one felt so nice meeting them after all these years. A book for book lovers and of course of the classic as well.

Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis

Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis Title: Can’t and Won’t: Stories
Author: Lydia Davis
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374118587
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Lydia Davis writes short stories, you take notice. You observe them and linger in their bitter or sweet after-thought. You also get confused. You wonder what her stories are about. As a reader, you also want to give up some times. You do not want to turn the next page. That is what you feel like and you cannot help it. You keep the book aside and after some time you get back to the book and then it hits on you, what you have been missing out on. And then the true beauty of her writing hits you.

Lydia Davis’s new collection of stories, “Can’t and Won’t” is a fantastic collection of vignettes, of short stories and of really long stories. At some point, I did not have it in me to soldier on, and yet I did. I think most of it also had to do with the fact that I had read Davis’s stories earlier. So my recommendation would be that to read some of her works online and then you will absolutely love what she writes and the way she expresses herself.

“Can’t and Won’t” is a collection that makes you ponder, makes you doubt, leaves you confused, perplexed and at the same time wrenches your heart with the most basic observations about life and living. Most of these stories are either retellings of her dreams, or related to Flaubert’s life (which are brilliantly reconstructed) or tales that are about painful memories and indecision and wanting to deal with life.

The stories are sometimes complex, sometimes simple and sometimes just make you want to drop everything else and think about life. “Can’t and Won’t” is expansive. It is a collection that challenges you, delivered in well prose and above all conjures a sense of wonder and delight, with every turn of the page.

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The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunninghamm Title: The Snow Queen
Author: Michael Cunningham
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374266325
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that charm you from the first page. That take your breath away and you know you are in love from page one. There is nothing you can do about it. You give in to the book’s beauty and hope and pray that you savour it and not devour it. You must as a reader respect the delicacy of words and sentences, of emotions that strike you, that jump, unbeknownst at you, changing some perceptions, making you question your life and such books will be gone back to, in time, for sure. “The Snow Queen” by Michael Cunningham is one such book.

I always thought that “The Hours” was his finest work. I was proven wrong. It is not “The Hours” but, “The Snow Queen” is probably the best till now in his line of works. I was aware that the book will be good, but not aware that it would completely take me by storm. The book is about everything I guess – the way we live now, the way we love and the way we die, and almost forgot about the way we believe and what we believe in or not, at the core of the novel.

The book starts with a vision which one of the main characters Barrett sees in the sky, as his boyfriends breaks up with him over a text message. He shares a Brooklyn apartment with his older brother Tyler and Tyler’s ailing girlfriend Beth, who is dying of cancer. This sets the pace of the book. In this, new characters are introduced – Liz, the common friend of Beth and the brothers and how she brought them together to Andrew, Liz’s much-younger lover and some more. Essentially, the book is about Liz, Beth, Tyler and Barrett.

There are so many moments in the book that stun you and take you on a whirlwind. Sickness is also spoken of graciously in the book. I have yet to come across another writer who can do this. Cunningham takes topics are difficult to tread on and sails on them, with grace and ease. The city of New York is another character that is in the background, silent and watching over all the protagonists.

Barrett’s religious turn to the dilemma of a sighting to unrequited and requited love. Tyler’s conflict, using Beth’s illness as a crutch, the marriage in the wake and a song that he must write and the strong connect he shares with his brother. Beth, at the center of the brothers’ guilt, love, and affection. Liz, almost the crux of their relationships and trying to struggle with her own.

Michael Cunningham’s writing is sparse. He does not need to run into pages to say what he wants to. He follows the lives of Meeks brothers and everyone is searching for their own meaning to survive and understand the human soul. The writing as I have mentioned a number of times is just marvelous. It is heartbreaking, tragic, moving and above all just about the human soul.

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