Sunday, May 30, 2010

Frenchman's Creek - Daphne Du Maurier

In her haunting style, Du Maurier opens Frenchman's Creek with a meandering description of a particular part of the Cornish coast. "When the east wind blows up the Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores." And so we are drawn to this particular era, this particular place: this secluded part of the river, the tiny village near it, and the grounds of Navron House. As Du Maurier talks of the place in present day terms, we hear an echo of what that place once was, the things that happened there and the hearts that met there..

Lady Dona St.Columb is stuck in an unhappy marriage with a man who can barely understand her try as he may. Her London life, a constant swirl of parties, concerts, flirtations with her husband's friend Rockingham seems to consume her life till one day she is disgusted by it all, and desperately wanting some distance from her husband Harry, takes her children and flees to Navron House on the remote Cornish Coast to live happily in seclusion, away from the tedium and duplicity of London. Navron House, uninhabited for many years, where Dona herself has been only once, is thrown up for the arrival of its mistress devoid of all servants but the butler, William, an odd fellow who seems to hide a secret. By and by Dona stumbles upon a creek on her grounds, the mooring place of a pirate ship that is the fear and disgust of all the gentry around. Before she knows it Dona is embroiled deep in the affairs of La Mouette and befriends the pirate himself, the elusive handsome Frenchman whom everyone seems to hate. To Dona, the creek becomes a magical place where she goes to escape her life and it isn't long before she, Lady Dona St.Columb, mother of two, finds herself falling in love with the Frenchman Pirate.

Frenchman's Creek, read during the two amazing days of thundershowers in Chennai was a welcome distraction from the rain: it was the perfect book to curl up with while the rain lashed outside. Du Maurier, rarely goes wrong and certainly not with this one. It spins such a vivid tale of love, passion, duty and most of all, of the simple life. A life where one need not be Lady Dona St.Columb with appearances to keep up, but can sit barelegged in the creek, eat freshly fried fish over the campfire, listen to a night jar. In Dona there is the yearning to be someone completely different from whom she really is and while you might not necessarily like her, you find yourself sympathizing with her.

Read the Frenchman's Creek, you will feel your heart moving in strange, beautifully sad ways and in the present day ruin that is left of Navron House, you too will see loyal button-mouthed William, poor blundering Harry, Dona and her pirate in their little creek, frozen in time, frying the fish that they just caught, for dinner.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Forget-Me-Not Sonata - Santa Montefiore

This is for my Grandma who passed away on the 22nd of this month: I miss you.

She has done it again. Whoever likes Santa Montefiore or not, I am her fan. She has this way of taking the reader on a wild goose chase and just when you think that neither book nor the characters are redeemable, she finishes the whole thing off so beautifully that you simply don't have the heart to complain. The Forget-Me-Not Sonata was all this and more.

The place is post second world war Argentina, a small community of English expats just outside of Beunos Aires and the time is summer: golden and filled with life, at least for sisters Audrey and Isla growing up in the leafy suburb of Hurlingham, with days of wild horse rides across the pampa, tennis matches at the club and picnics galore with their mother and aunts. Audrey and Isla are English without ever having set foot in England. Isla, the younger one who simply wants to gobbles up life has a mischievous spirit whereas Audrey, quieter, dreams about love nearly all the time. Things affect Audrey on a much keener level. Into their peaceable life blows a tempest in the form of the Forrester brothers, Cecil and Louis. While Cecil, the dashing war hero is admired by everyone and considered a prize catch, his troubled brother Louis the gifted pianist and shirker from the war is rather looked down upon as unstable and unsuitable as a suitor. Audrey's parents harbor a hope that she and Cecil would fall in love and make a match of it and Cecil himself begins to form an attachment to the girl. But for Audrey, from the moment she lay eyes on him, there can ever be one man and one love: Louis. The two are drawn into the intensity of their emotions for each other and apprehensive of what the unforgiving expat community would say of their love, they embark upon a secret affair that consumes their very souls. Louis writes for Audrey a haunting melody that she calls the Forget-Me-Not-Sonata, a tune which will haunt her for the rest of her life. Time and things are running out of Audrey's hands, Cecil's attentions are getting more marked everyday and she needs to come out into the open about Louis and fast. Things reach a crescendo with the sudden tragic death of Isla: Audrey is seized by a wavering of thought. How can she cause her grieving parents more sorrow by marrying a man they would not approve of? Is marrying Cecil the right choice after all? But can she ever forget Louis?

The Forget-Me-Not-Sonata is a tale that is melancholic and exasperating but I enjoyed it immensely, for it made me look beyond the small imperfections and flaws and realize with a sort of regret, that characters just don't behave the way you want them to, but it doesn't make their story any less compelling. Audrey makes for an irritating protagonist, but, in spite of it all I found myself asking if she wasn't totally justified in her actions. Love like Audrey's and Louis's is rare, something that a romantic dreams about but it is also tempestuous and self centered. What is love after all? An all consuming passion that makes you blind to everything else, that sets you heart on fire or a gentle stealing upon your heart and soul, a love that is truly unconditional and forgives you your trespasses with nobility of character? There are two men in Audrey's life but it is up to the reader to decide who was the better man between them. Although this story is for Audrey and Louis, it is really about Cecil Forrester and it is Cecil Forrester, with all his little idiosyncrasies that I have come to feel an affection for.

The Forget-Me-Not Sonata is a book to be enjoyed without over analysis. It takes you on a blind and erratic journey but in the end leaves you with a profound sense of satisfaction. I cannot wait to get my hands on another one of Montefiore's books!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Of Love and other Demons - Gabriel Gracia Marquez

I am in two minds about this book: either loved it or I hated it and I just can't figure out which. Of love and other demons is funny that way. It draws you in: into this bewildering, resplendent fable till you can hardly make out what is going to happen and just when you get all heated up and start rooting for the protagonists that for some reason you simply can't seem to like, it all ends. Well, I guess I loved the book but for the life of me I do not know why.

Of love and other demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a novella about Sierva Maria, the daughter of Ygnacio, the Marquiz of a little town in what is now Columbia. Born to indifferent parents who hate each other, Sierva is left largely to the mercy of Ygnacio's slaves and with them she grows up, absorbing their tongues and their practices, indifferent to the white man. On her twelfth birthday, Sierva Maria goes to the market with one of the slave women, where she is bitten by a rabid dog. The dog bites many people and soon the entire town is gripped in a frenzy: the slaves who have been bit have been spirited away by their kin to be treated with the medicines passed down to them. Sierva seems to be the only person who hasn't been affected by the dog bite. Day after day he father watches her closely for some sign of madness but she is much the same: spending all her days in the slave quarter, ignoring a timid, tremulous father and a mother addicted to cacao and fermented honey. Soon the town is convinced that she is possessed by the demon and she is locked away in the convent to be exorcised. The only person who believes in her sanity is priest who is sent to cure her but how will he prove that? What will happen to Sierva Maria and what will happen to Father Cayetano who has fallen in love with Sierva, the girl with the copper bright hair that brushes the soles of her feet?

This is one of those books that you will read, at first for the sake of the story itself: it is uncomfortable and blinding. Once you are done with the book however, you begin to appreciate the master that Marquez is with his words; so many themes have been explored in this book and all of them are many layered. I personally did not like Father Cateyano or Sierva Maria but I wanted them to have a happy ending with all my heart. That is the power of Marquez's writing. The people in this book ride a fine line between love and passion, life and death itself and who is to say what wins? In Marquez's New Grenada, anything is possible.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gentlemen and Players - Joanne Harris

I finished this book this afternoon and since then it has stayed with me rather strongly. I imagine among other things, for this book to smell like chalk, Gauloise, of old boys and new, strict form masters, pranks and pranksters, sarcasm, of all those things that belong to a prestigious grammar school and of a thin, reedy under current of deceit and violence. Joanne Harris has created a compelling portrait of a prestigious school, now poised at the brink of ruin. And on that canvas are all of those things that I have described above.

St. Oswald's Grammar school for boys is a school steeped in tradition and principle. For the boys that study there, St. Oswald's gives them that veneer, that edge. For the staff, men and women who have been with the school for decades and who have seen class after class of boys come and go, St. Oswald's is more than just a work place. It is all they know. It is home, and they are fiercely proud of it. None more so than Roy Straitley, sixty-five, the eccentric Latin master at the School who has spent his whole life at Oswald's. The staff at Oswald's is a patchwork bunch: There is Pat Bishop, the popular second master who is the very heart of the school, the less popular head, the newbies, forgetful Pearman, helpful Kitty Teague, the sanctimonious Geoff and Penny Nations. Over the years, the school has seen its share of successes and scandals, hush-ups, triumphs, it is protected by a powerful and dedicated old boy network; The great machination of St. Oswald's waits for none. The school it self matters more than anything and anyone else.

Into this place, one Michaelmas term, blows a sinister wind: there is a Jonah at the school. Someone with a grudge, someone who has come after fourteen years to exact a terrible revenge, someone who will not stop until St. Oswald's has been torn apart and brought to its knees. Slowly, pranks are played with a deeper intention; pranks no ordinary fun loving school boy would attempt, scandals brew and one by one things at the school start to go wrong and its loyal staff picked apart and framed wrongly for a series of shocking crimes. The culprit will stop at nothing: even murder. Who is this person? Why is there such a compulsive rage, recklessness and hatred in the revenge that the culprit has scripted for Oswald's? More importantly, can Oswald's seemingly inevitable hurtle towards ruin be stopped?

Without giving away anything, I will add this for the culprit: that a human being could act so destructively, for reasons small and big sent chills down my spine and Joanne Harris has done a splendid job at leaving things the way she did. In my opinion, the ending could not have been more perfect. No languid read this, there will still be some unease when you have closed the book, which is after all, natural. Things go on. Sometimes there is a satisfactory finish to things, sometimes there isn't. You don't stop living. More importantly, Oswald's will not stop. There will still be generations and generations of boys to be taught, come what may even after the worst of scandals.

Joanne Harris is better known for her Chocolat. Although I enjoyed Chocolat, I will call this book superior in the way she has handled the plot, the fantastic way she has described the life of a school and the luscious prose. Read the Gentlemen and Players on a long train journey, bus ride, an interminably long afternoon, a sleepless night. With the narration alternating interestingly between the perspectives of Roy Straitley and the culprit, it will leave you turning page after page. Joanne Harris has truly come into her own with this one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Great Blog Neighbour Award

I got a new award! Thanks to Whitney and Kals for this one!

The Great Blog Neighbour Award is a new award created by Felicia at Geeky Blogger's Book Blog.

Appreciate it guys!

I pass this on to some great neighbours I have been fortunate to have :)

1. Whitney at She's too fond of books
2. Kals at Pemberley
3. Shweta at Book Journal
4. Hannah at her Book Blog
5. Avi and Pavi - even if you don't have blogs. I love you guys!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," narrates the nameless girl whom Maxim De Winter marries, who becomes apparently, the rather colorless successor to his dead wife Rebecca and becomes the new mistress of the lovely Manderley. And so we are instantly swept, up the twisting gravel drive, through the eerily slim beech trees, past the rhododendrons, till we come in front of the once handsome gray house that was, is Manderley. As Du Maurier sets the scene for a gripping novel, you find yourself already rather intensely involved in the lives of Maxim De Winter and his wife in that small nameless hotel in Monte Carlo. There is this sense of hard fought for peace, a tiredness of the mind that welcomes the mundanity that life is now. There is a certain fragility about the couple and when you begin to wonder why, the narrator sweeps you along for the breathtaking ride that is Rebecca.

Our girl, the protagonist lives the drab life of a ladies companion to a tiresome, tedious widow, Mrs.Edythe Van Hopper in glamorous Monte Carlo. The city itself has nothing to offer to this twenty one year old who knows nothing about the high life. One day, while at lunch, they see Maxim De Winter of Manderley dining alone at a nearby table and Mrs. Van Hopper with her love for high society resolves to make an acquaintance with the illustrious Manderely and its enigmatic Master. Maxim treats Mrs. Van Hopper with the contempt that she deserves but our girl, her companion is quite another matter. A unlikely friendship develops between the two that turns into an all consuming adoration on the girl's part and a "sort-of-love" on Maxim's part. After a whirlwind affair, they get married. Maxim's life is complicated, his first wife Rebecca dies the previous year and it is rumoured that he can't get over her death. His naive, young, new wife tries to convince herself that Maxim really does love her.

When the couple return to Manderley, the bride is over-awed with the splendor in front of her and completely over shadowed by the present, yet never present Rebecca De Winter. Manderley is filled with curious servants, the county is teeming with people who are itching to have a look at the new Mrs. De Winter, the scheming housekeeper Mrs. Danvers absolutely hates her, Maxim himself has become ever increasingly absent with her and she is overwhelmed, trapped in a marriage that seems to be a mistake, unloved by her husband and looked upon as a curio by everyone else. Can she ever overcome the increasingly weighty presence of Rebecca in her life and win Maxim's heart? More importantly, what about the secrets Maxim and Manderley seem to be hiding? Can she ever win her husband's confidence enough for him to open his heart to her?

Rebecca is a tale of first love, adoration, despair and treachery set in stunning Cornwall. The narration was so racy and gripping that it proved to be the perfect antidote to this nasty bout of flu I have been having. Rebecca is my favourite of Du Maurier's novels and so it will be with anyone who reads it. I would recommend this book to everyone: it is easy to lose yourself in the wilderness that is Manderley, so do. You will enjoy it.

P.S - There is a wonderful write up on Rebecca at Hannah Stoneham's book can catch it here

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Septembers of Shiraz - Dalia Sofer

I had a hard time believing that this was Dalia Sofer's first ever novel. What must it feel like to create something so beautiful and poignant the very first time you write, knowing that you have written something that will resonate with the reader long after they have put it down? The Septembers of Shiraz is a beautiful beautiful book about the repercussions of dissipated rule, revolution and blood lust on an entire nation.

Isaac Amin, a Jewish jeweller in Tehran finds his world thrown upside down all in one afternoon when he is arrested by the revolutionary guards, wrongly accused of being a spy. He leaves behind in Tehran, his wife Farnaz and his nine year old daughter Shirin. His son Parviz is stuck in New York studying architecture, cut off from his family. The book alternates among the perspectives of all four in the Amin family: how they deal with the arrest of Isaac, how the revolution has affected their lives, their past, their present, the stigma of having lived well under the Shah's rule.

For Isaac, there is the soul debilitating experience of prison, reflections of his past, worries about his family, his regrets for having allowed his marriage to get into a rut, his rediscovered, almost desperate love for his wife and longing for his children. For Farnaz, there is her missing husband, the empty house with the huge gardens and pool that suddenly seize to mean anything, a young daughter in the house with haunted eyes and her son struggling without money in another country. Farnaz doesn't touch the cognac anymore, what she is going through now is not loneliness, but fear for the man that had let herself forget how to love. For Parviz, there is the alienation from the only land he's ever known and an as yet ever present feeling of alienation in the land he is in. Parviz is lonely, hungry, cold, living in a basement, cannot pay rent or the grocery bill and misses his family to distraction. He is unhappy, unsure of his place in the world. And finally, there is little Shirin: what does Shirin know about the seriousness of what has happened to her father? Maybe everything. Children observe way much more than they sometimes let on. Shirin misses the normalcy in her life, her mother is distracted with worry, her little world has become topsy-turvy and to top everything off, what about the illicit activities Shirin has been engaging herself in without any realization whatsoever about the magnitude of it all? The four of them, though separated physically find their thoughts circling each other constantly and in that, rediscover the love and bond that their family, any family for that matter, must share. It was wonderful to read the book through the eyes of four different characters at once. Underlying everything, is one strong emotion: a sense of bewilderment at the fast disappearance of the only Iran they have known and loved, a sense of fear for the unknown.

The Septembers of Shiraz is one of those quietly moving books that showcase civil strife purely from a domesticated perspective. The ultimate victim after all, in any difficulty, is the human spirit. How does it recover? Recover it must, for all of them. The Amins must leave Iran and their lives behind, escape to Turkey and eventually make their way to New York to their son. What of the land they leave behind? If you read the book, in the end, you will also be able to picture them sitting somewhere in Turkey, smell the grilled fish with lemons and see snapshots of the Caspian Sea in Isaac's head. Homeland. And he must leave it, perhaps forever. The book however, ends on a positive note: they can rebuild a future anywhere, as long as they are together.

P.S - Hey all! It's good to be back here. I have been crazy busy at work and I apologize for the lack of time I have given this blog and also for the lapse of visits to blogs I read. Sorry! I shall get to it as soon as I can! In this time, I read a ton of books though, and shall put up posts as quickly as I can :)

The Pickwick Papers - Charles Dickens

G.K. Chesterton called this book, "The great example of everything that made Dickens great." Very rarely, will one come across a set of characters that one grows to love in that absolute way that will not change and when that happens, that particular book becomes a friend for life. By the time I had turned the last page of Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers, I was well and truly crying because I did not want the book to end and I wanted to be a Pickwickian and own a waistcoat, complete with big brass buttons that said PC on them.

The Pickwick Papers give us a wonderful peep into the mind of one Charles Dickens Esquire. The Pickwick Papers, Dickens's first novel would leave even a Dickens beginner gasping in anticipation of what his later works would be like. One noteworthy observation on this book: although it is a lighthearted read for the most part, there are anecdotes that depict the sufferings of the deprived that are an indication of what I consider Mr.Dickens to have been: a sort of literary champion of the masses.

The Pickwick papers is an account put together by the recorders of the adventures of the Pickwick Club. The founder of this honorable club, that rare and amiable gentleman, Mr.Pickwick might be middle-aged but his heart is still that of a twenty year old and among the other followers of his club, his three particularly close friends Mr.Tupman, Mr.Winkle and Mr.Snodgrass provide an amusing foil to our founder. Together, these four excellent Gentlemen leave the safety of their London homes to embark upon an adventure in other parts of England with the intent of making observations and recordings on human nature, history and basically anything else that might be worthy enough of being entered in their notebooks. Along the way, they get to meet wastrels and weasels like Mr.Jingles and the lawyers Dodson and Fogg, laugh and shake their heads over the extraordinary capacity for sleep and eats of The Fat Boy, watch one or the other of their group fall hopelessly in love and generally get into all manner of delightful scrapes.

In the midst of all this is Mr.Pickwick, who is later joined by his newly appointed valet, the priceless and irreplaceable Samuel Weller. Mr.Pickwick is a soul who cannot but extend a hand to anyone who needs his help and with Sam for ballast, Mr.Pickwick has some wonderful adventures and relatively few scrapes along with his friends. Mr.Pickwick (I will consider him as something more than a character in a book) is one of those people that you love instantly: a touch of the father, the kindly uncle who slips shiny coins and toffees into your hand.

The Pickwick Papers is an unforgettable journey into the world into the world of Mr.Pickwick and the genius of the mind that created him. Do read the book and come away feeling like you have actually made fast friends with this wonderfully sanguine man in black tights and gaiters who goes by the name of Mr.Pickwick. You won't regret it and even if you don't cry like I did, you will hate to turn the last page.