Tag Archives: jane austen

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.

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250014764
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

After reading two of his earlier books, there was no way I was going to miss reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ third book, “The Marriage Plot”. It is very different from the other two though and that’s what I liked about it. An author’s real talent lies in the different genres he or she is willing to explore and takes that risk. If the risk pays off then nothing like it. If it doesn’t, well then at least the writer did what had to be done.

For me as a reader, the risk (if it was that) where, “The Marriage Plot” was concerned, paid off for Jeffrey Eugenides. “The Marriage Plot” as the title suggests is about the much talked about marriage plot that featured in books in the 1900s – the very Jane Austenish plots of meeting someone charming, maybe one or two, and marrying “the” person to live out your life. The difference being: The plot is set in modern times.

The story centers on three people – Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell, three students at an Ivy League University in the early 1980s. They study challenging and diverse philosophies from one another and unite in ways one cannot imagine. Madeleine is clueless and has a keen eye Victorian and Regency classics. She is studying semiotics though and has still remained true to Jane Austen and George Elliot. Mitchell Grammaticus befriends Madeleine and is secretly in love with her, and is drawn to Christian Studies and metaphysics. He cannot confess his love for Madeleine and moves to India for a while to work amongst the poor. Leonard Bankhead is charismatic, brilliant, a loner, who Madeleine falls for (why am I not surprised?). Leonard is everything that Madeleine wants and maybe is not for her or anyone else and yet she is drawn to him. She soon sees what is beneath the surface and her dreams of love and marriage are thrown off-course, before the story goes through various sub-plots and ends the way it should.

Now to the writing: As always, Eugenides did not disappoint with the writing. The style as I mentioned earlier is very different from his earlier books, but completely satisfying for a reader. References to literary works are all over the book and this is a treat. It has its own pace and at the same time the reader doesn’t feel bogged down with the writing or the references.

The characters are confused (that’s how they should be) and fit into the plot like a glove to a hand. Eugenides knows where to take the story and what to do with it so subtly that though the reader is almost expecting what is going to happen, he or she is in for a surprise.

“The Marriage Plot” is an intelligent read. It breaks elements of what marriage was thought to be in the past and at the same time pays homage to it. I would recommend this book to you more so if you are a literary fiction fan, more so for the references and the analogies. I would reread it for sure.

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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…

Books to Movies

They say that a great book can never be made to a great movie. I beg to differ in some cases. There have been times when great books have come alive so well on the big screen. It’s amazing to see what some directors have done with these books. Here are few of my favourites:

1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Vivien Leigh as the playful, bashful, and headstrong Scarlett O’Hara took my breath away. It was after watching the film that I read the book and it remains to be one of my favourite books and movie. I mean how can anyone forget Vivien picking up a handful of dirt in her hand and looking to the sky while saying, “I will never be hungry again”, or for that matter the famous, “Tomorrow is another day” as made famous by the on-screen Scarlett as Rhett Butler (played brilliantly by Clarke Gable) leaves her on the staircase of her house. This is one movie no one should miss.

2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: I am referring to the 1962 film version directed by the genius – Stanley Kubrick – the black and white imaging and play of light and shadow was brilliant. It was the component that propelled the story further. With James Mason as Humbert Humbert and Shelley Winters as Charlotte (played to the hilt) and not to forget Sue Lyon as Dolores Haze, the story was etched and controversial – of course only because of the book. How in the world could a man do this to a young girl? What I loved about the movie was its unfolding – Kubrick cleverly changed the order in which the events unfolded by moving what was the novel’s ending to the start of the film. Brilliant I say!

3. The Shining by Stephen King: Yes the book was longer. Yes the book was creepier. Yes we all loved the book. However, how can one discount the film? Jack Nicholson was brilliant. The past and future conjoined with what the child saw. I for one could not sleep for two days after watching this one.

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I am certain that if there is another adaptation of this book, no one will go and watch it. I love the story – makes me think I am reading Indian fiction for some strange reason – I mean come on – five daughters who need to get married – an intrusive mother, a doting father and the class and moral system of early Georgian England. The intelligent and spirited Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favourite heroines and I wish every girl their very own Darcy. The Lawrence Olivier version rules!

5. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje: Ralph Fiennes as the wounded soldier. Juliette Binoche as Hana the nurse who looks after him. Naveen Andrews as the enigmatic sapper Kip who loves Hana, a thief with chopped hands and the story of the english patient’s life. All the action takes place in a run-down war-torn Italian villa. The book had to be brilliant, but the film touched every single note right. Superb!

I don’t think one post will be enough for this. I have to come back with more…for sure…

Jane Austen and the Novel

So what is it about Jane Austen that captivates her readers? That is a question that I am waiting to find the answer to. I mean here she has written only of women who are waiting to get married or are already married. I agree that at one point I was a major fan and then suddenly I lost interest. I mean: The point of marriage in her books seemed so banal. Like my boyfriend says, “It suits the Indian aesthetics. They can relate to her heroines who lead a provincial life and marriage is the only end to happiness”. True, isn’t it?

Pride and Prejudice to top the list talks of 5 sisters – capable in every single way, talent and otherwise and yet yearning to walk down the aisle with men of substantial income. Yes, may be I get it. The fact that women did not work in those times. Therefore the only occupation was to find them an eligible groom. Have things changed much? At least not in India. The same situation exists around the world as well, I am sure.

I loved Austen’s dry humour while I was growing up. I thought Mrs. Bennett and Mrs. Dashwood (of Sense and Sensibility) were fabulous when it came to comic timing and yet I also think that probably Ms. Austen should not have emphasized on marriage much. In her defense though there is also the fact that women in her novels just happened to get embroiled in the so-called concept of matrimony. They could not do much in the 17th century, could they? How could they defy their parents? We still don’t in our country.

All said and done, there have been times that I have loved reading Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. I think I have outgrown them, however one never knows when the need to read about clashing egos of men and women and marriage in-between arises.