Tag Archives: Harvill Secker

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Title: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
Author: Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House
ISBN: 978-1911215721
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The year is 1785 and merchant Jonah Hancock has to cope with the tragic news that one of his captains has sold his ship in exchange for a mermaid. Sounds intriguing, isn’t it? I was sold at this premise. But wait a minute. There is more to this story which is more fascinating to me. The side story of Angelica Neal that quickly comes to fore. Neal is London’s most beautiful courtesan who wants to marry rich and secure a future for herself. And who better than Mr. Hancock who has a mermaid to be put on display and make easy money? And all of this is possible through Mrs. Chappell’s brothel (there is more to what meets the eye really) and given she has a soft spot (or so it seems) for Angelica.

Phew! That is not it by the way. There is a lot more going on in the book and let me tell you, that despite its size (500 pages), this is one racy romp of a read. There is a lot of decadence in this book (which I love by the way), there is misery, power, envy and fantasy. If not for the mermaid angle, I would classify this book purely as historic fiction, but let the two merge and work its magic on the reader. Also, might I add the magic of London (and its claustrophobia, its stench, lecherous men and grotesque women) is brought out beautifully by Gowar.

Angelica Neal’s character is so strong that she overpowers everyone else (in some bits and parts) and in a very good way because you’d want her to appear more as the book progresses. There is also a surprise in the form of Polly but I won’t ruin it for you by talking about her. You might want to discover her yourself.

“The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is set in a vivid and uproarious time. It is the kind of book that must be read again and more than anything for its female characters that stand out and well-deservedly at that. Mrs. Chappell, Angelica and Polly (there is also Mr. Hancock’s niece who makes a brief appearance) are the heroes of this book in all honesty. This is the kind of book that will keep you up all night and you wouldn’t want it any other way. “The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is all rolled into one – a comfort read (yes, at most times) and a thriller, literary fiction with the much-needed historic setting.

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Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan

Reading the World by Ann Morgan Title: Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer
Author: Ann Morgan
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846557873
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It was about a year ago, when I was led to a site where I discovered a lady who was reading a book from every country. It was her reading project for the year and I was most intrigued by the concept. I then knew that I had to read the book of how it all began when it came out.

“Reading the World” by Ann Morgan is literally about a woman’s journey across the world through books from each country. It is obviously not as simple as this. There is more to the entire process and revelation which this book is all about.
I am a big fan of books about books and that also blends in cultures of various places, which Morgan manages to do beautifully in this book. I agree that initially I did have a problem getting into it, given the tone and structure, but once you do, it is an effortless read (at least for some I am sure).

If you are expecting reviews of every book she read, then you should check out her site, ayearofreadingtheworld.com and not the book, because the book is not about that. The book is about Morgan’s experiences to get to the project and how people all over the world contributed to it. “Reading the World” is about how she chose the books for the project, the things she learned about literature and the experiences that made her question everything.

Books about books and the experience of reading just goes to show that there is so much hope for the world. I say that because I genuinely believe in the redemptive power of books and each book that Morgan picked up led her to questioning, working it all over again and reading books which she otherwise would not have. I urge all book lovers to get hold of this one and read it. It will make you more mindful of the literature that exists in the world, which is not ridden only by American or British literature, but a whole lot more.

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami Title: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846558337
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

There will always come a time in a reader’s time when his or her favourite author diverts a little bit from the writing style and the reader will not appreciate that move. There will also be a time when the reader will start reading the book, leave it, be riddled with preconceived notions and come back to it eventually. Reading is a love-affair, between the reader and the author at so many levels. The reader bickers. The author retorts. The reader loves. The author returns the favour. There is so much going on between the two and what conjoins them of course – the written word. I felt like a jilted lover mid-way of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami. I had a love-hate relationship with it to suffice the least.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” sustain most elements of Murakami’s writing and yet seems to move away from them. While I appreciated that, there were times that nothing would make sense (not in terms of plot) and even that was alright, till it reached a stage when everything that I read felt like I had already read before. Maybe even that was alright, but somehow the pace could not keep me attached to the book after page seventy or so. I left it. I was angry. I had fought with the book.

After about a week or so, I went back to it. I pleaded with it. I wooed it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to be loved by the book. I took off from where I left and somewhere down the line; I began reading it with an open mind more than anything else. Some parts I had to underline – I loved them so much, while others, I could not care for much. And now to the plot.

Tsukuru Tazaki is not someone special. He is ordinary. He loves trains and train stations. He works with trains. He is away from home and does not miss them. This is typical of a Murakami novel. Well, at least so far it is. He had his friends once upon a time. The five of them were inseparable. Till they decided one fine day to cut all ties with him. Tsukuru did not know why and he never asked. He moved away from his hometown and began living life differently. Something changed within him and now after all these years, he wants to know the reason they drifted apart, and that stimulus has come in the form of someone who he is currently dating.

The title comes from all his friends’ last names representing colors, while Tsukuru’s last name is colorless. The years of pilgrimage represents something else, however I shall not reveal it for now. The book is linear (for some time) and then it goes into Murakami territory – where dreams mingle with reality and nothing is what it seems. The range of emotions is wide – from envy to love to lust to everything possible, Murakami looks at it all.

For me, the connect came with the friends leaving bit – it hit hard and I could not stop thinking about my friends. The parts I was disappointed in: Too many subplots, too many themes running wild in the book, with no closure at all. But of course that is what one expects from a typical Murakami novel, isn’t it? Perhaps. But for me the expectations from this one were very high and I am also glad to say that the last two chapters of the book make up for every disappointment. There are magnificently written. The words, the expressions and Tazaki’s thoughts and dreams are succinctly put for the reader to just soak himself or herself in them.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is a book that maybe is not like other Murakami books; however he does manage to stir emotions. It was a mixed read for me, as I have said before. It is mostly confusing in parts, but if you let go of those notions and read it the way it is meant to be read, then you will get to see the other side of Murakami.

Here is the trailer of the book:

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Book Review: Ten by Andrej Longo

Ten by Andrej Longo Title: Ten
Author: Andrej Longo
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1846556173
Genre: Crime, Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Now to talk about a very unusual book which I finished reading a couple of days ago. It was full of impact, full of horror, and anticipation and at the same time, struck the right chords. It is also quite hard hitting in most bits and pieces. After all, “Ten” by Andrej Longo is a mix of the Ten Commandments and the Mafia. The action takes place in Naples, where the ten stories are centered.

Each story is based on one commandment and of course the Mafia is a part of each of them, which is the basis of this book. The stories are interlinked which again is what happens in most books of this nature. Naples is central to every story, which only helps the reader in understanding the landscape of the place and its nuances and culture. The stories are about regular people who are just caught in their lives and want better – for which they will go to any lengths.

The stories are different and yet at the core of it – the savagery of humans and the humanity as well shines through. So on one hand, there is a son who has to make a tough choice when he comes to terms with his mother’s illness to a teenager who wants to grow to become an adult a little too soon and gets caught on the wrong side to an abused girl who finds comfort in a stuffed toy. Each story is different and linked and at the same time makes you wonder about the fragility of human life.

What I loved about the stories is that the stories do not lose their essence from translation. Howard Curtis has done it again with this one. I remember reading “Lovers” by Daniel Arsand and “The Threads of the Heart” by Carole Martinez with same enthusiasm as I lapped this one, and of course those two were also translated by him. Andrej Longo as it is clear from the translation writes brutally and almost makes you jump from your seat in anticipation of what is going to happen next. The element of thrill and literary fiction is difficult to find at times, but he does it effortlessly. At times all I wanted was the stories to be a little longer; however each story hit the right spot. I would definitely recommend this to readers who want to read a short and yet full-of-life collection of stories.

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Book Review: The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee Title: The Childhood of Jesus
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846557262
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

J.M. Coetzee’s books are not easy to read. His writing is not easy to comprehend either at times. It takes a while for the reader to figure where he is going with the plot, but once the reader gets the hang of it, it is a cakewalk from thereon. Every time I pick up a Coetzee, I am a little apprehensive of how is it going to turn out. I know for a fact that the book will not be a happy one. His books generally are not. That is another supposition I kept in mind when I started reading his latest book, “The Childhood of Jesus”.

Do not go by the title of the book. While the book is allegorical in nature, it is quite different from the childhood of Jesus. I think most readers would be tempted to read this one because of the title, however it is very different. The novel is very elusive. It is mysterious in so many ways and that is why to me in most places, it was a complex read. The book takes place in an alternate reality (see what I mean about the complex nature of the book), following a man named Simon and a boy named David, who have come to a place called Novilla. They aren’t related. Simon has appointed himself as David’s guardian and he wants to search for David’s real mother, going only by his instincts and nothing else. They do not know how she looks or what her name is. This is how the book begins and this in short is the plot of the book.

The book is vast and sometimes as a reader I stopped looking for any similarities with the birth and the childhood of Jesus. The city or country that Simon and David are in is quite difficult to explain. There is almost no sense of time there or sometimes sense of place. There is a dock where Simon works and meets new people and in the course of the book meets some more new people, however the associations are kind of vague and on loop for some time.

The themes that emerge from the book are vague as well and yet so strong at times: the search for meaning in a person’s life, strife, disengagement, passion, the sense of the self and a whole lot of objectivity in a literary novel of this nature and scope. While the plot is ingenious and also intriguing to a great extent, my only fear was that of getting lost in this book of vast proportions (and this has got nothing to do with the number of pages). Overall: I really enjoyed this book. It was vague in parts, but the writing was first-class and just because of this I had to give it five stars.

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