Tag Archives: literary

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez
Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only booklovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes

mikhail-and-margarita-by-julie-lekstrom-himes Title: Mikhail and Margarita
Author: Julie Lekstrom Himes
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453756
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I had read “The Master and Margarita” in college. It was a long time ago. It was one of those prescribed classics that you just had to read and I remember loving it a lot, after initially not liking it at all. It was too fantastical for me to begin with and then the allegorical symbols rang home and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hungry for more. Bulgakov’s writing cannot be described by the words I have at my disposal. He is that good. What you must also remember is that “The Master and Margarita” was written under a totalitarian regime and how it got published is another story. For now, I will stick to the review of “Mikhail and Margarita”.

Most times, I get scared to pick up a book of historic significance and background. More so, if a writer has perhaps reimagined a certain time in history and tried to recreate it for the reader, I try and stay away from such books, mostly. This time I took a chance and read “Mikhail and Margarita” by Julie Lekstrom Himes. I don’t know if the story is real or not, but I know one thing: Ms. Himes sure knows how to tell a tale. I could not stop reading this book and right after I finished it, I wanted to go back to the Bulgakov classic.

“Mikhail and Margarita” as you might have guessed from the title is a story of Mikhail and his love for a woman named Margarita that inspired him to write “The Master and Margarita”. Let me also tell you that in real-life it was Bulgakov’s third wife Yelena Shilovskaya who was the inspiration for the character Margarita. I am guessing that Himes’ Margarita is also inspired by his real-life. Himes has also made this a love-triangle with an agent of Stalin’s police who is also in love with Margarita. The year it is set in is 1933 and how at that time Bulgakov’s career was at a complete dead-end. The book is brilliant – it speaks of passionate love, more passionate ideals, and the regime that will not allow any of this. All it wants is human sacrifice in the name of the country.

Himes’ writing is taut, detailed and well-researched. The book will make you at some points even go back to “The Master and Margarita” (but not so many). Himes’ characters are just everyday people trying to deal with a country and its policies that don’t give them the independence to think, forget falling in love. Much like what is happening today or might happen in the near future where USA and some other countries are concerned. I would highly recommend “Mikhail and Margarita” for the newness of plot, the writing and the way the book will make you think.

Patience by Daniel Clowes

patience-by-daniel-clowes

Title: Patience
Author: Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1910702451
Genre: Graphic Novels, Sci-Fi
Pages: 180
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

The deal with graphic novels written by Clowes is that there is not one single moment of rest. You cannot keep it aside and mull over what you’ve read till it is over and done with. “Patience” is one such of his graphic novels. It is sci-fi, love, twisted and redemptive in so many ways, that you cannot help but love the writing and the illustrations.

What is it about though?

Before I tell you what this book is about, let me also tell you that this book is highly trippy – the graphics are 80s and fucking (pardon my French) fantastic. I mean, this one for sure has surpassed his earlier works in terms of the visuals. Having said that, Clowes’ books do tend to drift away from the regular – be it the story or the characters’ nature. Patience is definitely no different and on the money every single time.

Clowes explores the themes of loneliness and alienation as he has in most of his other books. What makes Patience so different then? It is also psychedelic and it is a sci-fi love story – which is destructive and tender. Jack’s pregnant wife Patience is killed and this leads to his downfall. He lives in misery for decades till he discovers a way to travel back in time and stop the murder from happening. Once he does travel in the past, he learns a lot about his wife which he wasn’t aware about. How will the book end? What will be the outcome of this story? There is really only one way to find out. Read this book. It is one of those rare gems.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie Title: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0670088485
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Salman Rushdie is back after seven years to what he does best – tell a story. And not just tell a story but tell it across time, across eons perhaps, across everything and beyond your imagination. “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” – the word play on the title itself, adding to 1001 is in itself an indication of the master of words being back in his game. This book is different and yet so similar to his earlier books. Let’s look at what is similar and what is not, without giving away too much of the plot.

In context to his other books, here is what sets apart this one: The tone is way too mature and yet edged with wry humour, which was very evident in The Satanic Verses as well. At the same time, the feeling of alienation can be felt which was the case in “Fury”. The magnitude of “Midnight’s Children” is most certainly present, but what is lacking is more of magic realism. It is the trademark for sure, nonetheless more was expected.

The roller-coaster of a ride as the book zigzags from places, religion, fantasy, literature is something which has always been a part of his books – more so in this one and “The Moor’s Last Sigh”. In fact, at some point I thought that there was somewhere down the line a lot of recycling but with a lot of exuberance and verve. What isn’t there is the debate on religion which was a part of his earlier books mainly “Grimus” and “Shame”. What was also interesting was that at some point the innocence combined with a lot of angst that was a part of “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” could also be found as I turned the pages.

I also think that the book is heavily influenced by Marquez’s writings. The combination of magical and the realistic are interwoven beautifully in Rushdie’s latest work. At the same time, it does take some time to get into the book, however once the reader does, it is not easy to get out of the land created by Rushdie.

The book is a more matured version of Rushdie’s writings. There is a lot of profundity, with a balanced mix of magic-realism (the death of this word shall not come to be), mythology, history and of course not to forget love – at the core of the tale.

The usual elements are always there, lurking in the background, even Bombay snakes itself in in the first fifty pages with so much ease. There is also the magic realism, which is present throughout, but of course since the book is about a Jinni named Duniya and her love for a human being and how the connection of her children over time comes to be in the near future. There is an element of apocalypse with a storm striking New York skies and something called the “strangeness” which occurs in its aftermath, linking all of Duniya’s children across the world.

To me the story of “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is simply breath-taking. I could not for tear myself away from the book. Where does the title come into play? The title is about the time spent by Dunia’s children fighting a war with each other as the days and nights unfold. The tales are nested, just like all his other books. There is no overtly political tone in the book, like was the case in his other works of fiction, which is very refreshing.

The story is satirical (making its jabs felt on almost every page), it is also a metaphysical fable, it is also wicked and wise at the same time. In short, it is perhaps nothing like what Rushdie has written before. The reference range in the book is also wide – given he talks of Aristotle, Mickey Mouse and Henry James as well (besides many others), so much so that your head will spin faster and faster, right when you reach mid-way.

Rushdie’s New York is another aspect about the book. He encapsulates the city like no one else ever has (I don’t only think that but also believe in it). The humour is absurdist in nature, reminding me of Gary Shteyngart.

The Arab mythology angle is dealt with in a racier manner and I could almost find myself not being able to wait for those parts to come through. There is always this sense of dread mingled with excitement while reading a Rushdie novel. This book proves to be more and beyond that. I also think that maybe the gestation helped him to create something like this.

All in all, I would say that “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is the kind of book that comes along once in a while blending past, present, future, the mysticism and the real so innovatively that all you want to do then is reread it.
Here’s Salman Rushdie talking about his book:

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey Title: Amphigorey Too
Author: Edward Gorey
Publisher: Perigee Books
ISBN: 978-0399504204
Genre: Graphic Novels, Literary, Humour
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Amphigorey Too is a wonderfully strange book. It is a collection of 20 tales which have been previously published and this book is an anthology. In fact Edward Gorey’s stories are so short and so many of them that there are four omnibuses to encapsulate all of them.

These 20 tales are dark and completely out of the ordinary. They will take you by surprise and while they seem to be meant for children, they most certainly are not. Gorey’s style is always dark and witty. I guess having a signature way of writing always helps an author in the sense that readers can then associate easily and know what they are in for after reading the first couple of stories or books.

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey - Image 1

I had not heard of Edward Gorey, till my friend at Book Sense spoke highly of him and I knew I had to read him. My favourite tale in the book is “The Gilded Bat” which is about a prima ballerina and her life between performance, rehearsal and boredom. There are children in these tales who die at the drop of a hat and before you know it even adults are killed and meet their end quite grotesquely sometimes. But you must also read “Amphigorey Too” for the illustrations. They are brilliantly done and in tune with the wry humour.

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey - Image 2

The stories are sarcastic, dead pan, whimsical, bold, gory and above all also quite emotional if read deeper. Some of it is nonsense. Some of it is not. All I can say is that this is a read for a perfect rainy Sunday.

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