Sunday, 24 April 2016

Book Review: His Runaway Royal Bride by Tanu Jain

How does one judge a Mills & Boon romance? Do we go ahead with reviewing the plot, characterisation, language and other facets as usual, or do we ignore some parts of it considering it is meant for pulp consumption?

I haven’t read many M&B. I think this is just my second. But yes, I’ve read a few romances that fall into this category. I haven’t enjoyed any of them much, because they are NOT my cup of tea. I can only read so much about damsels in distress or even not in distress and knights in shining (or not) armour. There is only so much tough-guy-delicate-girl that I can consume without insulting my sensibilities.

I received His Runaway Royal Bride by Tanu Jain as part of a giveaway. I read it only because of the moral obligation I felt towards the author for having sent me signed copy. Reading about the conservative royalty in a modern set-up was regressive to say the least. I am from a royal family personally, so I know that the world now longer works on the basis of titles and family heritage! 

There are hardly a handful of royal families in India that still attract the “ji huzoors” and “Maharani saheba” deference. However, to be fair, despite the titles, the family dynamics were quite similar to any average middle class Indian joint family – the rumour-mongering, jealousy, conservativeness, spite.

I thought it was twisted and perverted the way the lead characters – Meethi and Veer – are supposed to feel wildly attracted to the other when on the same page a few words above they had been seething in anger, fear or distrust. I skipped over most of the description of the sexual attraction and action between Meethi and Veer – the descriptions were clichéd, and added nothing to the story. There was way too much stress on the beauty and handsomeness of the characters and every little thing seemed to lead to sexual action. Even going clothes-shopping could not be spared the throbbing members and explosions of lust! Loins, throbbing member, melting in the arms, tight erection, strong hands, sweet spot, thrusting, feeling of vulnerability… nah, not how I’d like to understand the characters’ passion for each other. Where do we draw the line between erotica/pornographic literature and a Mills & Boon?


The plot, however, was pacy and this was a quick read overall. Much of the elements of the book, however, appeared clichéd to me. In short, I did not enjoy reading this. But for the teenagers who like to fantasise, this could be a feel-gooder. 

I received this book as part of the Tornado Giveaway 2 by The Book Club. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A thrilling read: The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan

Trudi Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy comprises The Magicians’ Guild, The Novice and The High Lord. The story revolves around Sonea, a slum girl who is found to have high magical potential, and the fate of Kyralia, her land, which is under threat from the black magicians of Sachaka’s wastelands.

*There might be spoilers ahead – proceed with caution.

Plot 

It is the way the story moves that makes The Black Magician trilogy an interesting read. Book 1 – The Magicians’ Guild – was slow-paced. The first part describes the efforts of Sonea to escape the Guild’s capture, the misunderstandings between the Guild and the dwells, and this went on and on and often got boring. The key themes here are the class difference in Kyralia and the fears of acceptance and rejection. The second part, when Sonea is captured by the Guild and taught to control and use her magical potential, is more interesting. We learn that the Guild is not as bad as anyone feared.

In the second book – The Novice – Sonea begins her magic lessons at the University and discovers that she is stronger than most other magicians. The class differences and the sense of privilege of the rich are highlighted again through the activities of the bully Regin and his followers. We don’t see much of the Thieves or the dwells. But soon the book stops being just about Sonea’s development. Political undercurrents become strong, the danger of black magic becomes prominent, Akkarin’s activities become more sinister and grey, and the safety of the Allied Lands is about to be breached. The plot separates into Lord Dannyl’s quest towards the “higher knowledge” gained by Akkarin and his Ambassadorial activities in Elyne (as well as questions about homosexuality) on the one hand and Sonea’s classes and magical growth on the other.

The third book, The High Lord, was incredibly long, and could have been marketed as two separate books. However, the plot was fast-paced and had enough twists to keep the anticipation high. In this final book, we find that the Sachakans are the real threat to Kyralia, and the political implications are higher. There’s method to Akkarin’s madness, one that cannot be explained easily to the Guild or even to Akkarin’s best friend, Administrator Lorlen. While the first two books stayed quite safe of love angles, it is one of main themes in this one, and I will not deny that it is corny. However, I wanted the pair (won’t say who!) to be together and find happiness in adversity. I did not expect the ending, however. I may even have shed a tear or two.

Characterisation 

Characterisation is one of Trudi Canavan’s victories. She manages to build up reader sympathy towards almost all the characters in the series: from the protagonist Sonea to her benefactor Lord Rothen and her tormentor novice Regin, from the “Thieves” Ceryni and Faren to the magicians Lord Dannyl, Lord Fergun and Lord Lorlen, from Elyne citizens Tayend and the various Dems to High Lord Akkarin, from Lord Rothen’s helper Tania to Akkarin’s servant Takan, from Sonea’s aunt Jonna to Gol, Cery’s watcher. You can easily imagine each of them in flesh and blood.

Sonea’s character in The Novice was a little too meek for my satisfaction, though. I agree that this built on the ending of The Magicians’ Guild where she gives in to Lord Fergun with too much caution and timidity just because she did not know how powerful she was and how many allies she had. I wasn't very pleased with her way of dealing with the bully Regin. I thought she was too meek and diffident. It almost seemed as if she cannot form a functional strategy on her own. She needed alchemist Lord Rothen until he was her guardian, and later her best moves came with the help of healer Dorrien. However, in the first and third books, she is strong, confident and stubborn.

Akkarin’s character is rightly made mysterious, and he emerges as a reluctant hero by the end of the books. The confusions and fears of Dannyl and Tayend, and Rothen, and Lorlen, are well captured too. However, IMHO, Canavan doesn’t build the “villains” up very effectively. Though everyone keeps asserting the Sachakan magicians’ strength, we don’t get a rounded study of Kariko or the other Sachakans. A small glimpse of Kariko’s diabolical nature came only when he confronted Rothen and made a bloodstone for him to watch the destruction and death of Kyralia and its magicians. Mindless killing doesn’t make a villain formidable – it’s their amorality or skewed morality that makes them so. We do not get that sense of evil wholesomeness in the Sachakans.

Comparison with Harry Potter

From standard plotlines, anyone can guess that Sonea will emerge as the heroine and save Kyralia. Just like we knew Harry Potter would save the magical world and won’t die in the end. The Black Magician trilogy reminded me of the Harry Potter series in so much as it is a young orphan discovering magic and magical strength and dealing with growing up with magic. However, that’s where the similarities stop. Sonea came from a loving family, just a tad poor, while Harry’s family was cruel to him. Sonea entered the magical world with no friends or support (except her mentor Lord Rothen’s), while Harry was loved by more than half of the magical community and everyone helped him throughout the way. Compared to Sonea, Harry’s life was too easy. He had friends, loving and encouraging teachers and just one enemy – Voldemort, who was disliked by almost all. Sonea has no friends, and even the enemy she has to fight against becomes a real threat to the magical community only towards the end.

The fictional magical world

The magical world created in The Black Magician trilogy, however, is not convincing enough. The story is set in a fictional country called Kyralia, which is ruled by a King and a Guild of Magicians. The Allied Lands include Elyne, Vin and Lan islands, and Lonmar. Sachaka is not part of the Allied Lands and is separated from Kyralia and Elyne by a wasteland that was created during a magicians’ war centuries ago. All that is fine. But I felt that the attempt at creating a new set of words for flora and fauna - ceryni and ravi for rodents, faren for spiders, bol, raka and sumi for beverages (while still maintaining the term wine) – was quite feeble, almost forced. It would have made no difference to the plot if the names weren’t in another “language” or whatever it is that the author envisaged them as. 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Not Your Average Mushy Romance: A Thousand Unspoken Words by Paulami Dutta Gupta

When a novel is categorised as 'Romance', I tend to view it more as a feel-good, chick-lit story with high predictability of storyline. Since that is not the kind of works I like to read, it takes a lot of motivation for me to pick it up. Paulami Dutta Gupta had sent me an e-copy of A Thousand Unspoken Words a few months ago in return for an honest review, and because of my prejudice against romance novels, I kept off the reading for so long.

But once I started reading, I realised that this was not your average mushy romance. A Thousand Unspoken Words is literary fiction, if I HAD TO label it, but otherwise I'd just leave it at being a very good story, well-told. This story doesn't have heroes and heroines. Riddhimaan and Tilottama's love story is not a story of battles with family or society, but it's a story of battling with one's own demons. In this story, Riddhimaan is not a prince charming and Tilottama is not a damsel in distress. If anything, this love story is as close to reality as one can get without being melodramatic about romance.

Riddhimaan is an idealist who turns into a materialist after a terrifying brush with harsh reality. Tilottama is an idealist who is in love with the idealist/Leftist writer Musafir, the pseudonym taken by Riddhimaan. When Tama and Riddhi meet after Musafir/Riddhi has transformed into the materialist, there are sparks of attraction, but a lack of conviction too. Tama finds it difficult to come to terms with the changed ideologies of Riddhi, and the writer is not able to reconcile the differences in the personalities of Musafir and Riddhimaan. Both have to deal with their demons before they can take their paths forward together.

The writing is simple despite the underlying debate between idealism and realism. A Thousand Unspoken Words is not just a love story but a subtle critique on the social and political systems. Dutta Gupta doesn't merely tell you a story - there are layers in the story that bring out important points such as the tyrannies of capitalism towards the poor, management of an NGO, coping with mental illnesses, dealing with one's demons, being non-judgemental....

The victory of A Thousand Unspoken Words is that Riddhimaan is not a hero and Tilottama is not a heroine. They are normal people to whom things happen. The question is whether you can deal with it or not. And in that sense too, neither of them are noble and sacrificing and epitomes of anything. They deal with things, make mistakes, try to correct themselves, and learn with every step. Their story is backed by supportive characters like Riddhi's mother Krishnakoli, his sister-in-law Mimi and Tama's father Shoumo Sen.

The characterisation in the novel is really well done - well-rounded. Tilottama is stuck with ideals of younger years, self-righteous, judgmental and doesn't easily let her hair down. Riddhimaan is fun-loving, stubborn, slightly egocentric, and constantly confused over the rift created within his identity through Musafir. Shoumo Sen is living in the past, crying over the spilt milk of his estate in Darjeeling, but supportive of his daughter and trying hard to move on. Krishnakoli loves her son and wants him to be happy, while being a mother to almost everyone else too. Every little character presented to the reader comes with a personality, and not as two-dimensional pictures.

What could have added a little bit more substance to the book is a stronger reason or trajectory of Musafir/Riddhi's transformation from the idealist to materialist. I somehow found it difficult to believe that just being attacked and hounded by people who hated his writings could have changed him so drastically.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Ruminating on the Taste of Love: Alphabet Soup for Lovers by Anita Nair

I was drawn to the Alphabet Soup for Lovers after reading some of the excerpts posted by two of my bibliophile friends. The food allegories were so simple that they were tempting. I've never read any whole novel of Anita Nair before, and having heard praise for her from many friends, the excerpts had an immediate effect. I ran to Amazon the moment the prices dropped and bought myself a copy.

Neither did I wait too long to start reading the Alphabet Soup for Lovers. I started reading it in train on the way to Kudla from Bangalore and unfortunately, also finished it in two days. I wish it would go on and on, I wish Anita Nair was tackling Malayalam alphabets - at least then we'd have had 52 chapters and not just 26.

Alphabet Soup for Lovers is a simple tale - of how Lena Abraham finds love. Lena and KK, her husband, run a tea plantation and a small homestay in the lap of the Annamalai hills. Their marriage is placid, free of passion or arguments. But when Shoola Pani, the Tamil superstar, comes to stay in the homestay, Lena's life takes a new course. Passion and love, which Lena carefully skirted around all these years, come bursting forth from her bosom.

But this tale is not just about Lena. It belongs as much to Komathi, the cook of Lena's household, as to her. The tale is partly narrated by Komathi, and this is where the food metaphors and the "palatable" descriptions come from. The story's poignancy, light-heartedness, philosophy and heart comes from Komathi's narrative. Here's an example:

"Arisi appalam doesn't puff up like a pappadum or a puri. Instead it turns a beautiful crisp white. It's full of flavour. Of green chillies and asafoetida, lime and the heat of the sun, and each bite is like a firecracker bursting in the mouth... Leema and her husband KK...are like store-bought appalam. Seemingly perfect but with neither flavour nor taste. Leema, you need an arisi appalam in your life, I want to tell her."

In other parts, it is narrated in third person, where we get glimpses into the head and heart of both Lena and Shoola Pani. They are battling their own demons as their friendship fast-paces itself into a relationship that takes everyone by a storm.

The narrative is like the flow of a river. It is heart-rending without being melodramatic, plaintive without howling. Though I would have liked an ending to Komathi's story just as Lena got hers, I have to admit this book plucked the chords of my heart like none other recently. 

Monday, 29 February 2016

Snarky Humour, Lovable Protagonist: Only Wheat Not White by Varsha Dixit

Let me confess that I began reading Only Wheat Not White by Varsha Dixit with a lot of prejudice. Prejudice #1 - the genre. I am not a fan of romance, and the amount of mushiness and the forced happy endings drive me crazy. Prejudice #2 - the title. 'Only Wheat Not White' sounded too racist, too unsophisticated. But as I read, I enjoyed Dixit's writing. The snarky humour and the descriptions of Eila's clumsiness endeared me to the protagonist Eila Sood. In this month's 'romance-themed' reading challenge, this is in fact the one I enjoyed the most. 

Plot summary

Eila Sood has come on a six-month working stint to USA with an agenda of trying to reconcile her estranged family. Her sister Sheela married Steve, a Caucasian, against the wishes of her family. Eila has been sent to the USA with the clear instructions that she should not fall in love with any white man. Her mother makes her swear on "only wheat, not white". But on reaching the US, she realises that all is not well with her sister's marriage. At the same time, she starts falling for Brett Wright, a Caucasian with blue eyes who she bumps into at different points of her stay there. It is but natural to the genre that Eila and Brett must fall hopelessly in love and dare to go against her parents' wishes, and Eila should help solve some of the problems that exist in Sheela's life. 

Characterisation

I loved Eila Sood. A very believable character: gauche but hard-working and sincere, interfering but slightly scared about making decisions for herself... and a wonderful sense of humour that sustains the reading. In fact, descriptions of her constant gaucherie are what I loved the best about the book. Brett's character is not properly fleshed out. We predominantly hear Eila's voice, with Brett's POV getting just a few lines edgewise. The mother and the father, though, have not been given distinguishable personalities. There has been some effort in drawing interesting sketches of Sheela and Steve, but the impact isn't enough. All the effort has gone towards creating Eila. 


Problem areas

I have a few problems with Only Wheat Not White. #1 - Constant reference to Brett Wright as "the ogre" put me off. I don't think I got enough time to like him as Eila's potential lover. #2 - with a title that directly referred to racial problems between the Caucasian and the Indian, I expected a little bit of confrontation with the parents. Especially because the parents are present throughout the book as strong background characters. I also don't think the story does justice to the story of Sheela and Steve either - for example, how is it that they had never tried to sort their differences until Eila came over? 


I received this book as part of the Tornado Giveaway 2 by The Book Club.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Book Review: Or Forever Hold Your Peace by Donna Abraham

Or Forever Hold Your Peace by Donna Abraham is a simple tale of 27-year-old Malayali SMRC Catholic girl and her attempts at finding a Mr. Right. The unnamed protagonist-cum-narrator tells us her experiences with the customs around arranged marriages, with special reference to Kerala and the Christian community.

The story contains a lot of information about the wedding formalities in a typical SMRC family. It also included a lot of Malayali ideology surrounding wedding. It was all familiar to me and was quite my home turf.

However, the reading was bland because of the lack of dialogues. The entire narration, as well as the protagonist, was completely passive and impassionate. I could not entirely sympathise with either the situations or the lead characters. Zaka and Aryan’s characters are unidimensional – I couldn’t even imagine them as fully developed characters, but more as stereotypes. Even the protagonist’s mother and Zaka’s mother hardly had any individuality. The protagonist’s father, however, did come out as a decently fleshed-out character.

I thought it was weird to have a protagonist without a name. But then again, it could have been any woman, living the conventional life of a Malayali Syro Malabar Roman Catholic, with its traditions and customs and orthodoxy.

Certain threads are left unfinished. Why did the author have to put in juicy questions about Zaka and his mother’s Kerala visits and property sale if she had no intention of telling us about it eventually? The weirdest part, though, was the ending. It was so abrupt that until the penultimate paragraph I was wondering how the story could end.

I finished the book in less than a day, and I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Note: I received this book as part of the Tornado Giveaway by The Book Club.

Monday, 15 February 2016

A Mushy Romance for Light Reading: The Madras Affair by Sundari Venkatraman

The Madras Affair by Sundari Venkatraman is a mushy romance perfect for light reading. It was a quick and simple read, and combined romance with high-drama, full of pointless vituperations. I liked the way the author brought alive the mind of the protagonist Sangita to the reader.
Sangita is a widow with a little son whose mean husband dies in a drunken bike accident. She picks up the pieces and starts living with her parents, but her parents are orthodox about widowhood to the point of malice against Sangita. Gautam meets Sangita at the hospital where she works and instantly falls in love with her. Sangita reciprocates the feeling, but she’s bogged down by her vile parents and her own inhibitions against physical intimacy. The story unfolds how these two obstacles are overcome.

Since the book begins with a happy ending, it was impossible to expect anything else from the story. The ups and downs, the possible problems, were all anticipated by the established behaviours of Sangita’s parents and her own inhibitions after a disastrous marriage.
Gautam’s character did not endear himself to me. His anger at Sangita in the initial days of their relationship was unjustified and demanding. Though he invoked trust and charisma, I couldn’t imagine myself being able to talk to him without him snarling back at me. Slightly self-centred, and unthinking of others’ circumstances. Also, his love for Sangita was an intention to possess, irrespective of how Sangita felt. Sometimes I found myself thinking if the author had moulded Gautam into a typical male character as she was not sure how men react in certain situations. Even a “forward” woman like me found it difficult to accept that Gautam expected physical passion from Sangita within two days of being acquainted. But maybe we can blame his American upbringing for that? However, he improved once he heard the story of Sangita’s first marriage, and turned into a perfectly accommodating person.
Sangita’s character, on the other hand, was very sympathisable. I could totally understand her fears and the situation. Her brother Raghavan and his wife Rekha, the ones who support Sangita and Gautam’s relationship, are also likeable characters. Sandeep, Sandita’s son is a perspicacious child and one feels glad that Sangita has such a good son. Even the small character of Rakesh, Sangita’s second brother, is believable. However, her parents are orthodoxy personified. Which is okay, believable. But the way their approval was obtained for Gautam and Sangita’s marriage was quite unbelievable. I know some such orthodox parents, but I know for sure that they wouldn’t have agreed to the method Gopal and Radha chose. To know what that is, go read the book!
The writing is uncomplicated and the narrative straightforward. There are also erotic descriptions for those who care for it. All in all, a one-time quickie read!

Note: I received this book as part of the Tornado Giveaway by The Book Club.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Marred by Stilted Language: Skylines by Neelam Saxena Chandra

Skylines by Neelam Saxena Chandra is a collection of 14 short stories narrating simple stories from daily lives of an average Indian woman. They are tales celebrating the grit, determination, strength and fortitude of a woman.

The stories per se are not innovative or exceptional. In fact, many are clichéd and predictable. The only stories that I could bring myself to like were Time’s Wounds and Acts of Despicability. Lessons in Prudence could have been better written to bring out the pathos of the mother. Facets of Love, The Bolted Fortitude and The Shimmering Sun also have potential for pathos that has been missed because of the story being crammed with action rather than add a bit of description and pathos. The Conquest was really bad. Many of the stories weren’t coherent in the time-space: for example, Love Knows No Bounds went so abruptly from past to present to past to present that I couldn’t follow the narrative until almost the end.

The writing is riddled with Indianisms in language — my pet peeve in this book being the use of “expired” for dead: a word I think is highly inappropriate considering that a person is not a batch of medicine to reach expiry date. Another one is “stated” for said (or another flowery synonym): this is too press-release-y and formal to flow with the content.

The stories are action-driven rather than narration-driven. The narration moves from action to action, helping the story move forward, but this prevents us from sympathising with the characters or situations. I could not identify with or invest in any character because of this.

The author also tends to wind up stories with explanations or preaching — as in the first story The Three Men in Her Life  —  instead of leaving it to the reader to understand.

The dialogues are stilted and don’t flow smoothly. Overall, a certain archaicness in the language mars the complete enjoyment of the stories. If the author can rid herself of the influence of the vernacular and introduce a little bit of poignancy into her narrative, she can produce great results.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Book review: Gulabi by Pankaj Suneja

I read this book because I expected a translation of the author's depressions, hallucinations and the psychotic episode he suffered (as per his own admission in the book), into a good piece of psychological novel. However, I was sorely disappointed.

Gulabi by Pankaj Suneja is a confusing piece of work. The writing is bland and impersonal and makes no connect with the reader. The clinical and detached narrative prevents a reader from empathising with the characters.

The plot movement was confusing and chaotic and I couldn't follow it at all. The relationship between Monty and Virginia is not established properly. How did Monty know Waqas (who, as I understood, was Virginia’s client)? How did Virginia and Monty become close enough for her to visit Monty at his home? Is Monty dead or alive? Why is he experiencing Gulabi after have hanged himself from the ceiling of his house? There is no coherence of any sort here.

Virginia acts as a foil to Monty in a way, but the narrative parallel is not poignantly drawn. The ending was also inconclusive. While I understand that both Virginia and Monty learnt to cope with their situations, I could neither sympathise nor care for them. For me, a book must not only contain a story but also tell it well. There is no attempt at artistry in this work and it failed to delight me in any way.

*I was given this book by the author for an honest review. 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Melting in passion: Lines Across Oceans by Nalini Priyadarshni and D. Russel Micnhimer

Poetry is about expression, words, and imagery. It is not enough that you have a sentiment to express or a story to tell. You must use the right words in the right context and build an image that carries the reader right into the sentiment you feel. Or even better, create a sentiment for the reader that only s/he can enter at that time.

The beauty of the love poems in Lines Across Oceans is that they transcend time, space and existence, and take the reader to a plane inhabited solely by the emotion called love. Love here is not only the rosy and the dreamy, but also one that hurts and disassembles you.

The poems focus on the physical side of love, with a broad theme of longing and union. You hear both the male voice and the female voice, but mostly the tone is androgynous, which serves to assert that love has no gender.

The imagery is intricate and powerful. The complex metaphors create mind-pictures that will stay with you for long. Sample this (from Defining Destiny):

Hot tip of your tongue
Like the tip of a dagger
Pierces my dreams
Bringing my sword from
Its scabbard
To sharpen it
On the edge
Of your breath.

Or this (from Your Name):

I like the way it tickles  my lips
Smearing the edges of my mouth
Like lipstick after a stolen kiss

The lines are erotic without being vulgar, evocative without being provocative. For example (from Moon Pie, one of my favourites in this collection):

Let me put the brightest piece of moon
On your tongue
And lick the crumbs clean from your lips

Another one, from Blossom of Wondrous Heart: A mondoka:

I wrap your spry musk
Around my shoulders
Let your fingers trace desires
Along my sizzling brown back
Whispering forgotten lores
To solitude of my soul

Nalini and Russel have used various forms and patterns, which keeps the poems from becoming repetitive. This is a collection you can revisit and relish each time.

You can buy the Kindle version of the book from Amazon

Friday, 22 January 2016

A perfect Sherlock Holmes mystery: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

It was with a trepidation of expectation that I picked up The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz from a friend recently. Given my love of detective fiction, it was no surprise that I started reading it as soon as I got it home.

The House of Silk was, in every way, a satisfying read. Having read every single original Sherlock Holmes mystery, I found nothing in this canonical Holmes novel (a "fan fiction" approved by the Conan Doyle Estate, no less!) that jarred from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's narrative style. Dr. Watson's keen observation, the gentle revelation of the threads of the mystery, the deductive powers of Holmes - everything was perfectly done.

It is admirable how Horowitz managed to place the story right in the middle of the Sherlock Holmes narrative, with references to past and future cases and incidents. This went perfectly in line with Dr. Watson's constant references, in the original stories, of how he has had to conceal several stories for various reasons.

I also sensed in this book the Horowitz's need to better the originals - it may not have been conscious, but both the magnitude of the crime and the slow but steady unravelling of the mystery suggested that Horowitz was trying hard to both meet the expectations and surpass it. As a reader and a Holmes fan, I think he need not have fretted too much. He did the best job there could have been.

The House of Silk gave me a sense of eating the perfect iteration of the favourite food item usually made by your mother, from a stranger's kitchen. Horowitz may be a new writer for me, but I have already fallen in love with him! 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Great descriptions and style, but poor endings: The Patna Manual of Style by Siddharth Chowdhury

The Patna Manual of Style by Siddharth Chowdhury was a gift from a friend. The title intrigued me, there was no blurb to draw me into the book. I still chose it to be my first hardcopy read for 2016 because I was in a mood to read something new, something different. 

I loved The Importer of Blondes, the first story of this short story collection, which had the perfect mix of dialogues, descriptions, mood and ending. This built up in me great expectations for the rest of the collection. The collection is interlinked by the character of Hriday Thakur, a typical Delhi literary elite, a storyteller, a copy-editor/copy writer struggling to make ends meet, and one who likes his alcohol and women. 

As I read further, the well-told stories fizzled out towards the ending without a strong climax. Death of a Proofreader held a lot of promise, but again the ending dissatisfied me. Tipple Cake was all right. The title story was touching. Goat-Getting made no sense to me. The Changing of the Guard felt incomplete. Damsel in Distress was interesting. Sophia Loren could have been better. I have no idea why Autobiography was sandwiched in between. 

However, while I was dissatisfied with the ending of the stories, I loved the author's style. His writing captures moments, and paints distinct Delhi-life images. There's poignancy in the narration, the one which makes you feel like you're sailing in a cruise by a solitary, beautiful island with this book in hand and a glass of a soothing cocktail on the table next to you. 

Hriday Thakur seemed quite obviously modelled after the author himself. I have a bone to pick with that idea. As long as the narration was first person by Hriday or even a third person by him, I could relate to the stories. However, when a third person spoke about Hriday and either glorified or mocked him, it seemed pretty obvious that the author was indulging in a bit of self-pimping. Being a small-time writer myself, I recognise that urge to write about myself in third person because I think I am awesome in some way or funny or self-deprecatory or had some foibles worthy of note. "Since no one will do it, I must, and I must immortalise myself," I think. 

On another note, the references to classics, great music and Delhi University culturalisms brought in a unique intertextuality to the collection. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Book Review: Kaleidoscope by Rachna Gupta

There are poems, and there is poetry. Rachna Gupta’s little book Kaleidoscope seemed to be about poems of love rather than love poetry. While the sentiments of longing, togetherness, loneliness, separation, and every other facet of love come out very strongly, the lack of poignant imagery, repetition, and evocation of clichéd scenes mar the enjoyment of the book as a whole. Individual poems, however, could pass for understanding and empathising, especially from those who have known and felt love.


Thumbs-down

Excessive use of exclamatory marks: This is one of my pet peeves with poetry-writing in general. Use of exclamations suggest to me that the writer is too excited to express the emotion without additional help from the punctuatory tool. A good writer, in my opinion, uses words and imagery to express those emotions. Every poem in Kaleidoscope is riddled with exclamations.

Sample (from Legitimizing Love):
It was in the valley they stood,
He wore black jeans and the same colored t-shirt,
His favorite colors!
She a multi-colored silk sari,
All colors fascinated her!

I see no reason for use of exclamations here.

Nothing extraordinary in expression or imagery: None of the poems use strong imagery to build the scenes of love. Gupta picks from mundane, mushy scenes and renders them through wordy descriptions. She builds scenes that can be empathised with, but I like poets being pithy and imaginative in their expression.

Thumbs-up

Celebrating cute love: To do justice to the collection, I must say that this is a set of cute little love poems. They are steeped in the rosiness of love, the anxiety of separation, the delight at reunion, and other journeys on the path of love.

Sample (Promises):
I belong to you,
The love we have,
The crazy feelings we share,
Is like a blanket which wraps itself around me,
Keeping me warm!

I will hold you close forever,
When you are not there,
I will think of the good times we spent and draw strength from it!

The memories we made are tattooed all over my body,
They will remain with me,
Forever,
Just like our love!

No rhymes: Mercifully, nothing rhymes in this collection. To me, nothing kills poetry like forced rhyming schemes.

I received the book as part of the Tornado Giveaway 2 by The Book Club.