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.