Tag Archives: picador

Book Review: Ten Things I’ve Learnt about Love by Sarah Butler

Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler Title: Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love
Author: Sarah Butler
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1447222491
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 292
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It was the title’s unusual quality that drew me to it. I wanted to then read it and find out more. What was the book about? Why this title? I was guessing that it would be a love story for sure, however I did not for once think it was a love story of a father and his daughter. Of the relationship they share and what they don’t and how their love comes to be and what they learn from it over a period of time. That in brief was the essence of “Ten Things I’ve Learnt about Love”.

“Ten Things I’ve Learnt about Love” may seem the usual run of the mill dysfunctional family story; however let me tell you at the very outset, that it is not. The story is about belonging and wanting to really badly and yet staying away from it. Alice has just returned to London after travelling abroad and come home to her father who is living at the pity and criticism of her two older sisters. She has never felt close to him and now everything seems different and new. Daniel her father is the other central character who is living homeless, from one shelter to another, and desperately looking for someone all these years.

The story shifts between both their perspectives all along the book. The dual narrative style completely worked for me. What I loved was the way Sarah Butler at some point made their lives overlap and make sense of the entire book. The novel’s every chapter starts with a list of ten things, about various things of life and those were my best parts of the book. More so, the book seems to be a love letter to the city. London forms a major part of the book, almost a third character which is described beautifully. As a reader, all I wanted to do after reading the book was catch a plane and visit the places she mentions.

It is very difficult to believe that this is Sarah’s first book. It is detailed, vivid and almost magical in its scope. It is about regular people and beautiful lives that twist and turn and how somehow one manages to make sense of it all. The book is gradual, subtle and absolutely stunning. It will definitely stay with me for a very long time with its unusual format and the usual miracles of love and happiness.

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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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Book Review: The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn

 Title: The Patrick Melrose Novels
 Author: Edward St Aubyn
 Publisher: Picador USA
 ISBN: 978-0312429966
 Genre: Literary Fiction
 Pages: 688
 Source: Publisher
 Rating: 4/5 

The Patrick Melrose novels written by Edward St. Aubyn are not to everyone’s taste. These novels aren’t a happy read and do not promise a rose garden, so to say. The Patrick Melrose novels are made of 4 novels – Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk. The novels trace the English Upper Class through Patrick Melrose and his affluent family.

The four books made me think a lot and sometimes cringe as well while I was reading them. That is because Edward St. Aubyn has written a set of stories so believable that you almost recollect memories of people and times when you have encountered similar situations, may be through different people.

All books in the series take place over twenty-four hours and that is quite a feat for a writer. To be able to fit in everything – the plot, the emotions, the reactions and the thought-process over a given period in a book has always fascinated my sensibilities.

Never Mind – the first book, starts with Patrick at five-years old, being sexually abused by his demonic and narcissist father. The abuse also extends to Patrick’s American mother and at the end of the book; you are left feeling hopeless and angry.

The second book, Bad News, shows Patrick Melrose trying to face his own demons as he at 22, sets off to collect his father’s ashes from New York. Most of the second book is told in interior monologues which makes it both – interesting and confusing at times. Patrick in New York spends a drug-crazed twenty-fours and experiences life in a new form.

The third book, Some Hope reflects on Patrick’s life as a recovering addict. It depicts the possibility of him starting over. In this book, Edward gets us to see the other side of Patrick – the point when he is in-between sorting his life and wanting to start anew. The state of mind, emotions and thoughts are beautifully described in this book.

The fourth book in the series, Mother’s Milk is about Patrick as a parent. In this book, the focus is on Patrick’s mother who is plotting her own scheme of betrayal and hence the title. The series does not end here. There is a fifth book as well, “At Last” which I yet have to read and discover the magic of St Aubyn’s writing all over again.

Edward St Aubyn is not a writer that you take to instantly. His writing grows on you. The writing is vivid, sharp and painful, with the occasional brushes of humour. The Patrick Melrose novels are all about greed, decadence, amorality and the decline of a system of the aristocrats as observed through a person and his family. The story has to be read in order. One cannot skip a novel or read from anywhere. There is a lot of verbal power packed into these books, to the point that I had to read something funny to get back to these books. Like I said it isn’t meant for everyone, however if you do enjoy some serious fiction, then this is it for you.

Here are some quotes to give you an idea of his writing:

“It seems people spend the majority of their lives believing they’re dying, with the only consolation being that at one point they get to be right. ”

“Irony is the hardest addiction of all. Forget heroin. Just try giving up irony, the deep-down need to mean two things at once, to be in two places at once, not to be there for the catastrophe of a fixed meaning.”

“Perhaps all of his problems arose from using the wrong vocabulary, he thought, with a brief flush of excitement that enabled him to throw aside the bedcovers and contemplate getting up. He moved in a world in which the word “charity”, like a beautiful woman shadowed by her jealous husband, was invariably qualified by the words “lunch”, “committee”, or “ball”. “Compassion” nobody had any time for, whereas “leniency” made frequent appearances in the form of complaints about short prison sentences. Still, he knew that his difficulties were more fundamental than that.”

Book Review: Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter HØeg

Title: Smilla’s Sense of Snow
Author: Peter HØeg
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9781250002556
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a treat to read. There is everything in it which a book can offer – some great writing, mystery, literary fiction, and a sense of dry humour in certain parts. Peter HØeg proves that literature can be both entertaining and artful. Though on the surface, Smilla’s Sense of Snow is genre fiction, it is beyond just being a thriller.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is based in Denmark and then takes the reader to the Arctic in order to solve a mystery. The book first released in 1993. I read it then and I have read it now and I must say that I enjoyed it more the second time round. Smilla Jaspersen – half Greenlander, half Dane, an unconventional loner and brilliant scientist, is struggling with her emotions (which she doesn’t display enough of) and is devastated when a young boy she had befriended mysteriously falls to his death from the roof of their apartment building. She doesn’t think it is an accident. From there on begins Smilla’s journey and the trail she follows to solve his murder.

The writing is good. The story is wonderfully told. (I do not read books that do not interest me; hence the books that I read are brilliant) The setting could not have been better. However, what stands out the most in this book is the characterization of Smilla. Smilla is an ordinary woman (do not mistake her to be that anyway). She is bold, clever, smart, instinctive and reckless at the same time. She is a rule-breaker (doing it all subtly) and is not afraid to say things the way they are. Peter HØeg has created a woman who will not opt for the role society expects her to play.

Smilla cannot connect with others and she knows that. She feels bad about it but she knows her limitations and that’s what I love about the character. May be that is why she wants to bring justice to the one friend she had made.

The descriptions are dense and required while writing a book that merges the setting and the mystery. One needs to mention the details and Peter HØeg has done a wonderful job of that. Smilla’s sense of Snow is not your regular mystery. It is surprising that at times it takes so much effort to read it, because of the intensity and how it is weaved through Smilla’s perspective and her way through the maze of questions and emotions.

Smilla’s musings are another dimension to the book. I loved reading them (as and when they came along). They added spice and character to the book.

Here’s one of them:

“Deep inside I know that trying to figure things out leads to blindness, that the desire to understand has a built-in brutality that erases what you seek to comprehend. Only experience is sensitive.”

In this world of Lisbeth Salander, I urge you to read Smilla’s Sense of Snow. It is as fresh and compelling as when it was first written. A brilliant feat.

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Book Review: Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor

Title: Ghost Light
Author: Joseph O’Connor
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1-250-00231-0
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages:246
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is always a set of readers who appreciate a stream of consciousness narrative and those who do not. For me personally, I love it. It is a great form of writing and I have always enjoyed it a little more than the other forms. It is with this spark I started reading, “Ghost Light” and was surprised to know that the SOC narrative was used in this one.

Ghost Light is a brilliantly written small book of many wonders on every page. When I say wonders, I am referring to the literary strokes by Joseph O’Connor and I love how he has melded fact with fiction in this captivating love story, the story of Irish playwright J.M. Synge and his lover Molly Allgood, the Irish actress with the stage name of Maire O’Neill.

The novel opens in a dodgy London boarding house in a shady neighbourhood of 1952, where an older Molly is reviewing and revisiting her past with Synge. She lives alone expect for the ghostly presence of her dead-lover and so begins her story. The stream of consciousness voice of Molly (you are sixty-five now) keeps changing from second to third person narrative (as the years in which the novel is set changes from 1905 to 1952 and back and forth) which adds the much needed flexibility to the novel and also at the same time distances the reader from the characters and read the novel in a more objective manner.

The book is full of Irish references – poems, plays, songs and the landscape. As a reader you can almost imagine what is taking place and how. Young Molly has a brilliant narrative and it is interesting to note how it emerges to be what it is in her old age, from the robust and lively girl who falls for an older man. The plot further moves to letting the readers know that how Molly and John had to keep their affair a secret and the measures taken to ensure that their love was not found out by anyone.

What O’Connor also does is brings to forth the fact that in the good old days of 1905, it was very risqué of women to act in a play and Molly but of course was an actor, which is another interesting angle to the book. The book has several parts which are real and the rest are fiction according to the writer. Mr. O’Connor grew up next to the Synge house and the novel is a result of this fascination.

The novel like I said is not for everyone. Only if you think you have the patience for this kind of narrative and structure then you should pick it up, mainly because of the writing. Having said that, the novel has great structure and a grand scope that any reader will immediately take to. The love story is poignant and touches the right chords of the heart. The sense of place is vivid, which is what is expected in a book like this one. Last but not the least the book is truly mesmerizing. A must read.

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