Tag Archives: Virago Books

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Title: Jack
Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publisher: Virago Press, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-0349011806
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Jack to me was as beautiful in its writing as Gilead by the same writer. The interior monologues though they went on and on, worked for me. They got me off-track sometimes, but I was back in the book for most part. But perhaps the idea of the book was also to make you feel and think so much as you read along, which it managed to accomplish quite successfully with this reader. Also, might I add that you can read Jack as a stand-alone novel, though it is from the world of Gilead. It would be great if you would also read Gilead, Home, and Lila before embarking this one.

Jack is a book of romance. It is a book about God, faith, religion, and what we hold close. (well in more than one way). It is a book about John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Delia Miles, an African American high school teacher, who is also a preacher’s daughter. The book is set right after WWII, thereby making it all the more paradoxical of American way of life then and now – of these star-crossed lovers navigate their way at home and in the world.

Robinson’s writing is quiet. It is gentle, and also ferocious when needed. It is about people who don’t fit and how the world they inhabit is not of equals and doesn’t believe in equality. A world that will not let them forget who they are. Jack is about so much more – faith in each other right at the center of the novel, and about how even though cut from the same cloth, people still want to segregate.

Jack is a book that wants to show you how love overcomes it all and tries so hard to do that. I was convinced and loved that aspect of it. At the end of the day though, it isn’t that easy. Robinson’s usual gifts are present throughout – the pacing of dialogue, the story taking its time to get into gear, and how bit by bit all of it is revealed. Read them all. Read all the four books.

The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes

The Times I Knew I Was Gay Title: The Times I Knew I Was Gay
Author: Eleanor Crewes
Publisher: Virago Books, Hachette UK
ISBN: 9780349013213
Genre: Graphic Memoir, LGBT Literature
Pages: 308
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I wish this book was out when I was coming out to my family and friends. I wish this book was out also when I was coming out to my colleagues at my first workplace, and then constantly as I moved jobs. Sometimes I think that for me, my life is a constant coming out process. Coming out so many times that I have probably lost count. Till I wrote a book about it and that was that. But that’s a different story.

The Times I Knew I Was Gay is a graphic memoir by Eleanor Crewes and how she came out to her friends, her brother, and finally to herself about being gay. This book hits you hard in the sense that if you’re on the spectrum, you can so understand how difficult it is to know and yet deny who you are. To know it deep down and keep putting that thought at the back of your head, or at best living two lives – one straight, and the other when you are all alone, when you finally acknowledge being gay out loud, to yourself.

The Times I Knew I Was Gay also makes you see how liberating coming out of the closet can be, and at the same time it also very subtly hints at how it is no one else’s business but yours if you’d like to come out or not. I will never understand why people speculate about someone’s orientation/identity. It will always baffle me why do some people want other people to come out the closet. What’s in it for them? How does it impact their lives?

This graphic memoir on so many levels felt so personal. It made me see my confusion when I came out at 18. It made me see how I was in denial for the longest time, and how I wanted to be someone else, and fit in, even if it meant being straight. The Times I Knew I Was Gay is a warm, personal, charming, and honest account of awkwardness, self-denial, fear of not belonging, and what it takes to come to your own being.

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Title: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Publisher: Virago UK, Hachette Book Group
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-1844086665
PP: 400 pages
Price: Rs. 595
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Before Ernest Hemingway was ERNEST HEMINGWAY – one of the most revered, studied, analyzed, and parodied authors of American literature – he was a young man with a burning talent, staking his claim to a bright future.

And part of this future included Hadley Richardson, his first wife, a woman who was his equal in many ways – a risk-taker, adventurer, and big drinker. Paula McLain – in an addictive and mesmerizing debut book – breathes life into their life together in Paris in the 1920s, when everything was just starting to come together.

It was a golden time in Paris. Ernest Hemingway was a writer on the cusp; he was championed by Sherwood Anderson — whom he eventually turns on – and he hung out with expatriates Gertrude Stein and Alice Tokias, Ezra Pound and his lover, Shakespear (no “e” at the end), and later, with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Gerald and Sara Murphy. He eagerly sought advice, learning to fine-tune his craft, especially with the guidance of Gertrude Stein: “She’d hit on something he’d recently begun to realize about directness, about stripping language all the way down.”

Yet the book is always, definitively, Hadley’s to narrate – and indeed, she does so quite sympathetically, in the first-person. In many ways, it is a re-telling of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, as Ms. McLain pushes deeper into the lives of her characters while remaining true to the facts.

Hadley meets Ernest not long after the death of her overprotective mother, and marries him after a short courtship. Nearly a decade older than her new spouse, she lets him lead the way; when Sherwood Anderson convinces him to go to Paris, she gladly signs on. In many ways, she becomes the personification of Hemingway’s famous “True Woman” – someone who is true and gentle and good and strong – without losing her essence.

As their life becomes more and more colorful – ski trips, visits to Ezra Pound at Rapallo, wasted drinking weekends at Pamplona for the running of the bulls, Hadley asks one of their friends, “What is it we want, exactly?” The answer, “Everything, of course. Everything and then some.” Hadley retorts, “If this is a festival, then why aren’t we happy?”

Happiness is hers in fleeting moments, as Ernest begins to attract attention for his work, after her son is born, and when she loses herself in her piano playing. But Hemingway is crippled by what would now be diagnosed as PTSD as a result of his war years, and is way too self-destructive. Followers of Hemingway know that he will leave her for another woman — the hypocritical Pauline Pfeiffer, who embraces them both, calling them “her cherishables” and “her dears.”

Hadley is, of course, immortalized for the famous lost manuscript incident. When her husband was covering the Lausanne Peace Conference, Hadley paid him a visit in train and packed all of his manuscripts including the carbons in a small valise, which was stolen and never recovered. This is but one of the story lines depicted in this page-turning debut.

With a few tiny missteps – a little too much foreshadowing and sometimes, an over-awe of her subject – Ms. McLain eloquently captures the innermost feelings of Hadley as well as the Paris life at a heady and exhilarating time. Years later, Ernest Hemingway – who married four times in all – writes of Hadley, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” I closed the pages of this book wondering how much better his life might have turned out had he remained with the woman he called “the best and truest and loveliest person I have ever known.”