Tag Archives: Random House UK

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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New Boy: Othello Retold by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier Title: New Boy: Othello Retold
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Imprint: Hogarth Shakespeare
ISBN: 978-1781090329
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I was skeptical about reading this one, only because Othello and Macbeth are my favourite Shakespeare plays and in my head, no one can adapt them. I am sure it has been done several times, but they still don’t hold a candle to the original. Hence, the skepticism.

At the same time, while I thought the book started off promisingly, something didn’t quite fit in. There was this constant nagging thought at the back of my head which I couldn’t place. Till I did and which I will speak about a little later.

“New Boy” is a classic circadian novel – a novel that takes place through a day. Maybe that is the reason it is short and couldn’t have been any longer than this. Also, it is the perfect book to read in today’s times – it is sad I say this, because it is about race and alienation in the 70s and we are in 2018. Something should have changed. We think some things have, but they haven’t. Racial discrimination is as real as it was then and we have only see it grow in the last couple of years.

Anyway, back to the book. “New Boy” is Othello retold. The setting: A private junior high-school and as the title suggests, a new boy Osei – straight from Ghana – a diplomat’s son nonetheless (so black and privileged) enters a school and a white girl, Dee (Desdemona) falls for him and that’s when the school bully Ian (Iago, of course) has to do something to tear them apart. It is the 70s and racial discrimination is at its height.

Chevalier gets references and slurs bang on – so real that I had to keep the book down a couple of times before picking it up again and also because many a times, the conversations didn’t seem to be had between eleven-year olds till I stopped thinking of it this way and started enjoying the story.

The book takes place in a day – at the beginning of a school day and finishes at the end. We all know how this one is going to play out. I couldn’t read further for the longest time, because I didn’t want the tragedy to strike. One would even think that the tragedy cannot be as gruesome as it has been depicted in other adaptations, for instance, Omkara but Chevalier packs a punch and how! Her interpretation of Iago is just as crafty (even more and scarier because it is projected on to a child) and then there is her Othello, who is just as gullible and prone to first-day of school politics.

“New Boy” was a read that I warmed to. I didn’t like it initially. I waited for it to grow on me and it did. It is the kind of book that cannot be rushed with either. You have to take it all in in one big gulp and wait for it to be digested before reading some more of it. Pick it up!

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain Title: The Gustav Sonata
Author: Rose Tremain
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1784740047
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I don’t know how to begin this review. I will try. I will try to express what I feel – because what I feel about this book cannot really be put in words. “The Gustav Sonata” is one of those books that you keep coming back to after you have finished reading it. Not entirely, but in bits and pieces – to comprehend not the story but just to know that life works mysteriously sometimes and you cannot do much about it but live it for what it is.

I picked up this book on a whim. It was just one of those days when I entered Wayword and Wise and knew that I had to pick this one up. It was there – begging for my attention. When a book does that, you know you will love it, no matter what.

The book is set in a small town in Switzerland. World War II has ended but the effects remain, though not as much in this town. Gustav Perle grows up in this town and is certain of only one thing: He loves his mother who on the other hand is cool and distant with her son, never loving him, never showing him how she feels. Gustav’s only friend is the music prodigy Anton whom he adores. Anton just takes Gustav for granted since kids and well into adulthood. The story starts when they are children in 1947 and ends in 2002 when they are sixty, covering a gamut of explorations, emotions and what it means to be human.

The book is not only about their friendship, or about Gustav’s dead father or just the past and how it impacts the present and the future, but also about coming to terms with life and living it in its full glory or not. It is about a country that chose to be neutral and the impact that had on its citizens.

“The Gustav Sonata” is a big book with a big heart. It is delicate, sensible and asks the bigger questions of loyalty, betrayal, heartbreak and self-mastery in a way that no other book I’ve read has. It struck a chord in me in so many places. There were times I could not stop highlighting in the book – all I can say is that you must not let this year go by without reading this book. It will for sure change you in more than one way.

All The Rage by A.L. Kennedy

All the Rage by A.L. Kennedy Title: All the Rage
Author: A.L. Kennedy
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224098434
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I have just started reading A.L. Kennedy’s books and I can say with guarantee that I will not stop at two. The first one I read was, “The Blue Book” which left me speechless and breathless. The second one which I have just finished reading is, “All the Rage” – a collection of short stories by her and this one according to me was better than the novel for sure. More so, because I have this soft corner for short stories.

The stories are burning with passion – and yet so subtle that the words will break your heart. There is sex, there is this all-consuming rage and then there are moments of peace and wonder. A.L. Kennedy manages to fit in everything – and the collection sure has a great punch to it as well.

The title story is about a marriage falling apart at a railway station – waiting for the train to arrive. My favourite was the story about a woman who has seemed to have lost it all and walks through the aisle of a sex emporium with an electric penis in her hand. A middle-aged woman goes into town with her older lover, who will pay her debt and then move in with her. It is beautiful. I mean the power of words which Kennedy uses here is something else. You only have to read it to believe what a writer can be capable of.

A.L. Kennedy’s stories make you sit up and perhaps make you also want to be in those situations. That is the way she writes – expecting or rather demanding the full attention of the reader – another level of involvement altogether and nothing less than that.

There are times of comedy. There are times of tragedy. It is almost the author’s style of writing is dichotomist and she takes great pride in that as well. The stories are about brief, damaged loves. In every story of the twelve that she has written – that is the underline theme. “All the Rage” is a collection that will make you look at love a little differently and maybe it will be worth it.

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata Title: Just So Happens
Author: Fumio Obata
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224096638
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Home is where the heart is. Home is also sometimes the place that you want to go back to the most and just cannot. There are times you long for it and there are times you cannot stand to be in that place. Relationships perhaps are the crux to home. They can either make or break what is home for the person. To a very large extent, it also depends on the past and that is exactly what Fumio Obata’s graphic novel, “Just So Happens” is about – the meaning of home and its importance.

I live away from home. I am from Bombay and I live in Bangalore. It is in the same country no doubt and yet home seems a million miles away. It is almost suffocating at times, not to be at home – the feeling of alienation and then I also try very hard to fit in. Homesickness, longing for home and trying very hard to not choke when you see others around you enjoying their home city.

“Just So Happens” is the story of Yumiko, a young Japanese designer living in London and making it on her own. The past seems a distant memory. Till her brother calls her one fine day, to inform her that their father has died in a mountaineering accident. Life changes in a flash. Yumiko has to return to Japan for a while and has to make choices, she never thought she would.

I am obviously not giving away a lot of the plot because I would like you, as a reader to experience it for yourself. The illustrations are beautiful (they better be, given it is a graphic novel) with vivid brushstrokes – also how the artist separates the two cities and also the hues which are well brought out in the graphics.

I could relate to the book at so many levels and yet at some points I thought the story was a drag, till it picked itself up and then there was no looking back. “Just So Happens” is a heart-warming and yet at times very introspective graphic novel of belonging, identity and to pick up the pieces of life and build it all over again.

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