Tag Archives: lives

At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison

at-hawthorn-time-by-melissa-harrison Title: At Hawthorn Time
Author: Melissa Harrison
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 978-1408859056
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

For the longest time I couldn’t understand books which had nature as an integral theme. I don’t know why but I couldn’t. Then I read “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert and it changed my view of “nature novels” forever. I was intrigued by the genre. I had to read more about the beauty we are surrounded by (albeit what we do with it) and our close connection to the flora and the fauna to speak of.

Human beings, most of them have not understood nature and its significance. It is so out of their line of thought and vision, that it doesn’t even cross paths with their day-to-day life or routine of it. Come to think of it, it is rather sad, isn’t it? To not think of what we are surrounded by and I am also one of them. I am equally to be blamed, however I hope to change that by observing, and perhaps by saving what is left.

“At Hawthorn Time” by Melissa Harrison is not the kind of book that can be read in one sitting. Not because it is difficult to read, but because you need to ponder and mull over what is written. At times, you might even feel that this book isn’t for you, but I beg you to give it some time and you will see its beauty and what it’s worth.

Let me quickly get to the plot of the book: Howard and Kitty is an ageing couple who have moved to Lodeshill, after spending a lifetime in London and their marriage is falling apart – day by day, without a word or indication. They do not have the will to do anything about it and that’s heartbreaking. Harrison has this wonderful knack of blending the ordinary with the extraordinary moments and this is where nature plays a major role in the book. Everything happens languidly, at its own pace. I even thought that the couple’s marriage was like the turn of seasons – that carried out for 30 years and now had just given up.

Lodeshill is a fictitious village (I read this in an interview as I finished the book and was surprised to read that). Having said that, it is as real as any village could be – the mannerisms, the locales and the landscape of village life are accurately and beautifully captured by Ms. Harrison.

So there is this couple whose marriage is on the rocks (or has completely fallen off the cliff so to say) and then you have Jack, a rebellious modern-day hippie who has skipped imprisonment and all he wants is to go back home and reinvent his life, keeping his body and soul together.

And to forget that there is Jamie, a nineteen-year old man who is coming of age and doesn’t know what to do with this life. There is no direction or purpose so to speak and all he wants to do is leave Lodeshill for good. At the same time, he is taking care of his grandfather who is facing dementia and just disappears one fine day, leaving Jamie wondering what happened to him.

Before the reader knows it, there are paths that cross (but eventually) and incidents occur and life isn’t what they all thought it is. At this point, I would have to talk about nature and the big role it plays in the book – it is there – bright, dark, daunting and as varied as you’d think of nature to be. The landscape in which Harrison writes is real, not brutal but definitely bordering the lonely and the aspirational and Harrison just makes us realize the worlds we inhabit. A book you must buy, read, keep, and reread.

This book was also a shortlisted title for the 2015 Costa Novel Award.

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At Hawthorn Time



Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life  After Life by Kate Atkinson Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385618670
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had never read anything by Kate Atkinson before this one. I had heard a lot about her, but of course and was quite intrigued by the titles of her earlier books. At the same time, every time I would try reading an excerpt from any of her books online, I could not connect with them. I guess maybe the timing wasn’t right. Maybe there are times when some books will call out to you and some will not, no matter how ready you think you are to read them. Books have a mind of their own I guess. It was time for me to read an Atkinson novel and I did.

“Life after Life” just as the title suggests, is nothing but that – life recurring after life and life. Confused? I guess I was a little as well when I started the book, but not when I was half-way into it, and definitely not when I was a quarter into it as well. It is a big book at five hundred and twenty odd pages, however it doesn’t feel like that (most good books don’t make you feel tedious about their length or size). The book’s premise to me is from Plato’s famous philosophical ground: “Everything changes and nothing remains still”. This gets weaved in with the story of our protagonist’s life – Ursula Todd.

Ursula Todd is born to Hugh and Sylvie Todd at their home in England on a winter night in February 1910. She dies the very same night. But this is not where her story ends. This is where it begins. She gets another chance at life and keeps getting them – again and again, a recurrence of sorts. This is not a fantasy story, just to clarify it right at the outset. The multiple lives and deaths of the character are beautifully told by Kate Atkinson and the déjà vu atmosphere of the book is not lost. The idea of karma and deep-rooted philosophy shines with clarity at almost every single page and I for one could not help but turn the pages again and again.

The character is but obviously remarkable and has many layers to her. Ursula’s life even though quite remote from ours can be connected with instantly. The writing is poetic and does not get mundane at any point of time (though there was a danger of it getting that way at some point in the book).

The language is rich in metaphors and scenery. More so for me, what worked was the linear plot of the book and yet Atkinson could tell so much in it. I am not giving away too much of the plot only so you can experience the reading for yourself and make your decisions on how you feel at the end of it and midway through the book.

The existence of a person and also again and again says so much about the philosophical layers about the book. The entire premise of the book to stand on one idea and that too so uniquely put is quite a task successfully achieved by Ms. Atkinson. The idea that life can be got right, living life after life is reflective and yet monotonous to me. Having said that, the book is a wondrous idea and story of endless lives (in the sense) and what we go through living them. A read that you must gift yourself this year.

Book Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Title: The World We Found
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 9780061938344
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love reading novels centered primarily on women. I need no more than that to engage me while I am reading. So I was surprised when I received a galley from Harper a couple of months ago, titled, “The World We Found” by Thrity Umrigar and I was sucked in to the story from the word, Go. Let me also add here that the book is solely about four friends who are women and about their lives.

Laleh, Kavita, Armaiti and Nishta were four close friends in their Bombay college days 30 years ago. They were also revolutionaries fighting for causes and rights. However, as years have passed by, their lives are diverged; they have lost touch and have little in common but the one strong fact, of being friends. Tragedy strikes when Armaiti reaches out from America with news of Cancer and this is their last chance to be together as what they were.

The book works on various levels – friendship, love (friends and their lives with their spouses or not), the years they spent together and apart, the Bombay riots of 1992, and amidst all of this, the friends’ individualities – Laleh, the equal in her relationship, a rebel of sorts, Kavita – the successful architect, a lesbian, hiding the most important aspect of her life from her friends, Armaiti – who went away to America and Nishta – who married her college sweetheart and is now a different person due to him.

The husbands play their roles in the book, however mostly in the background, though without them the story wouldn’t have propelled ahead. Thrity Umrigar’s writing is weaved into layers and they unfold little by little, leaving the reader surprised and shocked, depending on the situation. The story is told through the perspectives of the four women and despite using this technique; the story has the fluidity it needs.

The characters are strong, introspective women. They do not shy away from what they have to say and how they must act. Umrigar’s women are bold, intelligent, loving and at the same time individualistic. The story is not something which is unusual or brilliant, it is however the writing and the pace that makes it what it is – a wondrous read, which will make the reader understand friendships better and how long lasting they are despite death looming over one of the friends. I would recommend this book to one and all. A must read according to me.

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The World We Found: A Novel

Book Review: Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Title: Falling Together
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Publisher: William Morrow, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780061670879
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Falling Together is a story about three college friends – two young women and a man and refreshingly enough, it is not a love triangle. It is about Pen who feels that love triumphs in every situation, Will, in search of the third member of the trio and Cat who has left her husband and disappeared – their lives, quirks, their beliefs, their errors of judgment and the lives they led. Thrown into this is a college reunion which only adds to the further complexities of the plot.

The plot may seem thin and simple – however there is more to the story. Moreover Marisa de los Santos knows how to beautifully craft a sentence and keep the words sometimes to bare minimum. The friends have faced different issues and different skeletons also come out from the closet during the reunion and this is what keeps the story propelling. Marisa de los Santos as in her previous two novels manages to surface her characters’ thoughts and emotions to the hilt.

The book in itself is nothing new, in the sense the plot, what is new though is the style of writing as I have mentioned earlier. Each character had a lot of dimensions to it and that is what brings out the characterization in a better manner. The descriptions are detailed and the atmosphere only adds to the book.

Friendships in college mean a lot. They form you as a person and make the bonds stronger. Falling Together emphasizes on such relationships. Falling Together is a story that everyone can relate to as it is about friends and the lives that are common to all. I would not recommend the book because of the story; I would however recommend it for the way it is written.

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Rescue by Anita Shreve

A born storyteller, Shreve does a beautiful job in her description of a family in distress, a relationship crippled by a tragedy waiting in the wings. When Vermont EMT Peter Webster first sees Sheila Arsenault, she requires emergency assistance at the scene of an accident. Her blood alcohol signals trouble, but what young man in love reads the signs of impending disaster? Without much thought, Webster and Sheila embark on a love affair, for Webster a wonderful and unexpected gift, for Sheila a time out in a chaotic life. Pregnancy leads to marriage, baby Rowan the center of the couple’s lives until the attrition of time and too many sacrifices causes Sheila once again to seek solace in a bottle. A near-tragedy and the course of a Webster’s future is altered. Eighteen years later, a happy, well-adjusted daughter becomes a moody, angry teenager, Webster unable to communicate with the daughter who has become a stranger.

Shreve explores the territory of single parenthood and the loss of what might have been with her usual deft touch, capturing the difficult choices of a man desperate to protect his daughter from her mother’s excesses, his work as an EMT contrasting the dangers in a quiet Vermont town with the previous serenity of his home life. The real villain of the piece is, of course, Sheila’s alcoholism, the reason for the domestic disharmony, the marital arguments and a daughter’s resentment of her mother. Since Webster never really understands Sheila’s drinking, he has no tolerance for Rowan’s experimentation, as though good intentions could keep such a nightmare at bay. Alcoholism is the elephant in the living room, the source of all Webster’s grief and the threat to his confused daughter.

Whether writing historically or of contemporary life, Shreve has a facile touch, her prose fluid and believable as her characters face the unpredictability of choices that deliver hope and pain in equal measure. The responsible Webster, the tragic Sheila and the dangerously rebellious Rowan are vividly portrayed and culturally relevant. No monsters here, only vulnerable humans who stray from the bright promise of youth into the ragged detours that leads to forgiveness.

Rescue; Shreve, Anita; Little, Brown and Company; $26.99