Book Review : The trouble with goats and sheep

“You only really need two people to believe in the same thing, to feel as though you just might belong.”

The trouble with goats and sheep , Joanna Cannon.

Coverpage of The trouble with goats and sheep

Sometimes the whole wide world is a small place. There is no vast expanse. There are no far away horizons. The trouble with goats and sheep is a tale of such a small world. 12 to be precise. This is a tale of 12 houses in an avenue. The avenue comes alive because of its inhabitants. The people are fantastically portrayed.

One very hot June in 1976, Mrs Margaret Creasy goes missing. This jolts the residents of the avenue. They are a very tight close knit community. The disappearance disrupts their lives. Mrs Creasy was the heart of the avenue. She spoke to all , without any reservations. Everybody felt warm and nice in her company. Her disappearance leaves a gaping hole in the lives of the 12 families.

Gracie, a ten year old, and her friend Tilly , an almost a ten year old, take it upon themselves to solve the case of the disappearance of Mrs Creasy. The girls do miss her. The embark upon a quest to find her. Their journey takes them to a very interesting junction. If only they could find God , everybody would be protected and all will be better again. By implication, finding god , they feel that they’d manage to bring Mrs Creasy back into their lives again.

And so the kids start their investigation.

The kids go about the neighbourhood asking the adults if they believed in God and if they had seen one. Each character has a representation of god and the diverse answers that the kids get, leave them convinced that god doesn’t really reside in their avenue. God wouldn’t, and there is a reason for that. While kids struggle to uncover the mystery, the adults are holding on to a terrible sinister secret. The adults are nervous about Mrs Creasy’s vanishing act because it had attracted the police’s attention. The adults do worry about what the police might discover.

Hidden away within the confines of the avenue that houses 12 families, One cold winter in 1967 , the residents make that decision to burn down the house with the door #11. Why ? Mr Walter Bishop. Mr Bishop is perceived as creepy , wicked, and a pervert. The families bank on collective evidences to justify their justice. They pick a night ,when Mr Bishop and his mum are away, to burn the house down. The logic behind the act was that without the house, there wouldn’t be a Mr Bishop in their neighbourhood.

The plan goes well. The house does burn down and it is made to appear like an accident. Unfortunately, Mr Bishop and his mum get caught in the blaze. The mum falls victim to the incident. This does bear down a bit on the collective conscious of the residents.

The narrative swings between that winter in 1967 and the current summer in 1976. As the girls prod about Mrs Creasy, we get to uncover the series of events that led to that fateful night. Rest of the tale is about the fate of Mrs Creasy. Is she dead? Was she murdered? Did she leave because she figured out that the residents had killed Bishop’s mom? The community starts to crumble under it’s own weight of guilt and prejudice.

The book is about the collective conscious. This book beautifully captures the dynamics of families living together as a closed community. Each character brings a bag of prejudice and bias to the table. Each character is flawed and broken. Each character tries to fit in, and find that sense of belonging to the wider community.

The conflict between conformance and fitting in with staying unique and true to character is portrayed through the eyes of the two little heroes, Gracie and Tilly. The girls are a social outcast in their school. They do not fit in. They get bullied. Gracie looks up to another kid, Lisa, and tries to ape her to gain acceptance. Gracie is prepared to do what it takes to fit in.

Tilly on the other hand, has an overprotective mom who smothers her all the time. Tilly wants to be free, she wants her dad, who is separated from her mom, to acknowledge her and accept her. Tilly feels that being Gracie’s friend is all the acceptance that she needs in the world. The contrasting nature of the girls serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the community and Mr Bishop , who the community unanimously detests.

The biggest theme explored in the book is about conformance to society and the nature of the society to tolerate people who are different. Under the pressure of wanting to fit in, many of us do the things that we do. We gang up and pick on people who are different. While , as individuals, we do not express strong views; under the safety of numbers, we do tend to promote the ravaging beast that we hold dormant within.

I loved this book. The characters are sculpted to near perfection in the book. It holds a mirror to us as a society. It makes us think.

Give this a shot.

Karthik

Advertisements

Book Review : Lord of the flies

Coverpage of the Lord of the Flies

Lord of the flies, William Golding

In many ways, the book Lord of the flies can be compared to a fantastic experiment to understand collective psychosis. Psychosis, according to wiki, is the fracture of the mind because of a disconnect from reality. Collective psychosis is a reflection of how a group of people , who are confined to a space, display a hive mentality. This hive mentality usually amplifies the common outlook. A society with enough good intentions will garner a collective good intent. A society that thrives on other motives will generally oscillate towards that. Hence the phrase, it’s only human.

The book starts with a bunch of kids finding themselves stranded in an island that is desolate. The first of the kid that is introduced to us is a chubby little one. He meets another kid, who has a fair hair and is fitter and handsome. The new kid introduces himself as Ralph. The chubby kid never gets the opportunity to speak of his real name. He goes on to narrate that , back home, the other kids used to taunt him by calling him Piggy. The nick name sticks. So in that island, there is Ralph and then there is Piggy.

The unlikely duo stumble upon a conch. Ralph blows and this attracts the attention of the other kids who are stranded. As the kids assemble, we get to realize the situation. Kids vary in their age. The littleuns are aged around six. The biguns are teens. The prominent biguns are Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon, Roger , Sam and Eric. There probably are a few more but I didn’t make a note. Mostly because I found them to be a plot filler than anything else.

The littleuns, there is Percival, and there is this other little rug rat who has a purplish face.

Jack , is the leader of a choir and his mates and him are stranded on the island. Since Jack and his mates form the majority of the biguns, Jack does feel a little betrayed when he is not elected as the chief. Ralph is the appointed as the chief. And that’s mostly because Ralph had assembled the kids by blowing through the conch. The conch goes on to symbolise leadership for the rest of the book. Symbolism is a major theme in this book.

Zippa-do-dee, the kids manage to conclude and agree upon the plan that their apex priority is to get rescued. To be rescued, Ralph rationalises that they should be lighting up a fire that would generate smoke. This smoke is expected to be spotted by the ships. The biguns explore the island to confirm that it is an island indeed, and isolate the perfect vantage point to light up a fire.

Piggy’s spectacles is the only means of ignition. School grade science at play here.

Things start off good and then they stop staying good. Jack takes the role as a hunter and his group of cronies, and yes a word that I’ve not had the pleasure of using for a long time now, become the designated hunters. Jack starts off as a lame hunter. His first attempt at hunting a wild pig ends up as a failure. This becomes a significant failure in Jack’s life on the island. His ego hurt, hunting now and hunting successfully becomes a symbol to Jack to assert his credibility. Fine, I tried to sound politically correct. Jack’s manhood is now represented by his ability to hunt. Yup, that suits the tone , as written in the book.

In course of time, the kids entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the fire alive , goof up. The let the fire die. A ship passes by and panic ensues in Ralph’s mind. This creates a rift between Ralph and Jack. To Ralph, getting rescued is the most important thing. To Jack, it’s hunting.

The stark reality is that these are all a bunch of kids who are trying desperately hard to transform into responsible adults. They try and they collectively fail. The littleuns are too little to understand the circumstance. They continue to do the million mischievous and silly things that kids that age do. They miss their mothers and cry, they play in the sun and enjoy getting dirty. They lead a normal life of pointless distraction.

The biguns are caught between two worlds. They are kids and since they are also the elder ones, they pretend to be adults.

As the days go by, there is a talk of beasts that are there in the island. Fear grips the group. The littleuns are the first to be scared witless. Fear propagates through the group. Mass hysteria and paranoia kicks in. The group decides to never to speak about the beasts. The biguns do their part in trying to hunt down the beast and that doesn’t go anywhere.

Frustrations start to press down the kids and over disagreements, Jack decides to take his pack of hunters and leave the group. He creates his own tribe and in his tribe, kids paint themselves in red and white.

The rest of the book is about the beast that hunts in the island, and you’ve got to read to the book to know if the kids made it safe and sound.

This book is a master class on psychology.

Piggy, the fat kid , and yes I’ll call him that. It’s not because I’m insensitive or I feel the need to rubbish a kid on it’s physical appearance to feel a bit better about myself. Piggy, the fat kid, is the one who stumbles upon the conch. He is the thinker in the island. He has the necessary traits to be a leader. He is the lord of the fire, without his glasses there wouldn’t be a fire. Piggy never shines bright through the book. Something holds him back. He gets teased a lot and piggy’s outlook towards life is a line on throwing excuses. He hides his limitations behind excuses.

Ralph, the chief, is uncertain as hell but pretends to be a wise chief. He consults piggy but there is that confidence in him that makes him a leader. Ralph is a wonderful example of how one can rule the world by feeling wonderful and confident about oneself. It’s that self assurance that makes Ralph a natural leader

Jack, the hunter and a chief of his own tribe. Jack’s ability or inability to hunt manifests as his worth in the island. Whatever that Jack is battling inside his head, he translates that into the skill of hunting. There is so much violence in Jack. That coming out from a kid who sings in a choir!!!! interesting peek into the psyche of such a little boy. Jack expresses violence to compensate things that he lacks or things that he is denied of.

Ralph wants to remain civilized and English throughout the book. Jack descends into savagery. The conflict between culture and primal is evident in the tale. When there is no one to look at us, or to judge and supervise us, do we still remain decent and true to our masks? That is the question that the book poses. Different people are different when there are no eyes on them.

In the context of real life, it does explain the lack of civic sense in our offices and the same folks are at their ‘International Best’ when they are deputed. We are different people when people are around us. This book removes that supervision from the equation. It observes the people in it in that absence. Chaos flies spirited.

Lord of the flies is a wonderful book. I found it hard to read. There were numerous times when I lost track of what I was reading. I found it to be extremely descriptive. Every inch of the island is described. I had trouble sustaining focus. It’s still a wonderful book to read.

Karthik

Book Review : The first fifteen lives of Harry August

Coverpage of the First Fifteen lives of Harry August

The first fifteen lives of Harry August, Claire North.

I’m fascinated about souls, time travel, time paradox and a sweet tale of cat and mouse. The first fifteen is a story that checks all the items on that fascination list. This is a wonderful tale that spans the multiple life times of Harry August. The premise is simple enough. We are introduced to the usual world which has a few special people in them. These folks are called the Kalachakras. The world itself translates to the cycle of time. The Kalacharkras reincarnate time and again in this world. They retain their memories from their life times. There is a unique fundamental rule that governs this iteration of births, each time a Kalachakra dies, they are always born back in the same point in time , under the same circumstance and they get to relive their life all over again. There are events that change across each lifetime and there are those which do not. WW1, WW2, the Berlin wall, the revolutions, the rise and fall of dictators, none of these ‘Linear events’ usually change.

The life of Harry starts the most usual way. He’s born as an unwanted child, his biological parents decide to dump him. He finds foster care. He struggles through life , the early days. When his memories come gushing back , it opens his conscious to the many lives he has lived before. There is the usual struggle to cope up with such an overflow of information. He does what most normal folks do. He kills himself. The process resets his time. He realizes the folly and adopts a different approach to his life.

And so the tale begins. Harry, having lived quite a few life times, has the cumulative knowledge of the world that was, the world that will be. With each life, he learns how the world evolves across each lifetime. Like all sensible blokes, he memories the outcome of sporting events and makes a winning wager. Easy money. The funds secured, he goes on to observe the world around and keep track of how technology shapes the world in each of his lifetime. He eventually accepts his life, accepts the fact that he’s destined to relive the same life and that acceptance opens up options for him. He uses the time, life time to be exact, to learn and quench his thirst for knowledge. Things seem to be going good for our protagonist.

Through his lives, Harry starts to learn the dos and don’ts of his existence. He realizes the dangers of fiddling around with the natural flow of time and in the process , he gets introduced to the Chronos Club. The club is made of similar Kalachakras and Harry beings to learn more about his kind. Kalachakras have always existed. They have always observed the world, refused to actively change the linear events of the world. He also learns that information is passed down back to the generations by way of a child to the old. The children of the modern age would feed the near dying. The reincarnate would then kick start their life with the knowledge. Logistics and logistics.

The status quo changes when the Kalachakras start feeding back the news of how the end of the world is now accelerated. There seems to be a breach in the way of the world. The apocalypse rapidly accelerating, the end almost near, all of this pushes Harry to challenge the status quo and see if he can save the world.

From here, the game of cat and mouse picks up pace. When time is immaterial, immortality is the way of life, the simple task of saving the world does span a few lifetimes. It sure is not an easy task. The rest of the story is all about Harry’s quest to save the world. He does get to die a few times in the process. Does he save the world? Does he conclude that the world is not worth saving? Does he feel disgusted by humanity’s capacity to destroy itself? The immortals are posed with questions of a different kind indeed.

The book does hold a mirror to humanity. We live in a world where it’s easier to be insensitive towards tyranny and oppression rather than staying vociferous against it. We live in a world where history does tend to repeat itself, the world lets it happen time and again. We are more divided than we’d acknowledge. Given the context of the book, within a given lifetime, we grow numb to way of the world. Imagine living through centuries and centuries of the same world and magnitude of indifference towards the way the world is!

Harry goes through the same challenges that we all go through. Do we stay mum? Do we ache to change the world around us? Do we stand up and become the voice for the voiceless? Do we succumb under the weight of a messed up world? Given the fact that Harry does live on, he still makes his choices. Given the fact that we endure and survive the ugliness of the world, we also do make our choices.

The book’s central premise rests with the ability to travel back in time, the ability to alter the course ahead for humanity. Technology is a great disruptor. Imagine the course of the great wars if Mobile reception was made available during the wars. Imagine the outcome , if the nations had the capacity to make a billion calculations under a second. What if WW1 had access to nukes? The nature of what ifs, the nature of driving technological changes to alter the course of humanity is very intriguing. With the amount of technology in hand, aren’t we inching a step closer to making all the science fiction of our past into a modern day reality?

The other big theme is around immortality and the boredom that is generated by repetition. Spend enough lives, and one gets bored of living. Introspectively, lead a life doing the same set of things, life grows mundane. Insensitivity, or that feeling of staying numb, is an apt outcome of that dogmatic, narrow minded, tunnelled vision of an outlook towards life, are symptoms of a life stagnating away in front of our eyes. There is a certain helplessness to it all. We are, because we do. We are not able to break free and that’s also because we just do.

All is not super fantastic about the book. The way it ended was a colossal miss. The first two acts invest ample into building tension and the way the tale ends, did feel a bit rushed and not well thought off. The climax squandered away the emotional investment that the readers would have made to the characters.

I’d still give it a shot. If you like souls and a commercial , mass appeal view of spirituality and indulge in the act of breaking your head about lives, deaths and reincarnation, this is the right amount of palatable fiction.

Karthik

Book review : The other hand

The coverpage of The Other hand

The other hand, Chris Cleave.

When the book’s back cover page reads ‘ We don’t want to tell you what happens.. and once you’ve read it, you’d be tempted to discuss this with your friends. Please don’t do so until they’ve read the book’, I felt compelled to buy the book. Such confidence did motivate me to grab the book. It was a blind date of sorts and yeah, I think the date went well. It had it’s moments, it felt nice and while I wont enjoy such a date again, I don’t feel cheated by it either.

This is a serious book and the book doesn’t shy away from it’s premise. This is a story of two women. Little bee, and that’s not her real name. Bee escapes Nigeria and finds herself in the UK’s immigrant’s detention centre. After a short stay of two years in that institution, Bee walks into the land, almost as a free citizen. The office doesn’t issue her papers, just lets her go. That makes her an illegal alien in the land.

Bee, fortunately, knows only one family in the whole of UK. Andrew and Sarah. The English couple , a few years ago, had managed a vacation in Nigeria and it changes their lives forever. There is something that connects Little Bee, Andrew and Sarah. As fate would have it, their lives intersect all over again. What happens to Bee, what happens to Andy and Sarah? The tale unfolds the fates of these wonderfully penned characters.

To throw in a little context, Nigeria was gripped in a chaos over petroleum. The black gold resulted in the government shaking it’s dirty hands with corporates. This leaves the natives as unwanted burden in their old land. As with money everywhere, violence is a friend that walks hand in hand with it. As resources go plundered, lives are reduced as mere perishables. Bee is a young teenager and her view of her land does paint a horror story. Bee’s narration also walks us through the differences in the human lives when they are separated by boundaries of nations and wings of development. Bee is , by far, one of the strongest narrator that I’ve ever come across. Her narration brings two distinct worlds together. She makes us laugh, she’d make you queasy.

There is a Batman in the tale. Charlie, the tiny tot of Sarah, often dresses up as Batman to cope up with his small life. What is he coping up with?, you have to read to discover that by yourself. The innocence of Charlie, the fear driven defiance of Bee, the idealism of Sarah and pragmatism of Andrew, they are all but the many sides to a life. Through them, we do see the strength of the human spirit. Through the world of politics, rules and governments, we see the might that feels forced to crush that human spirit.

The book poses a wonderful question. Should a country be permitted to refuse asylum to seekers across the world? Are there strains to the native citizens? Is the world not a big enough place to host everybody under the sun? Why cant countries protect people who don’t belong to them? As a species, do we belong to the earth or as civilised, educated blokes, do we belong to nations and governments that rule them? There is no simple answer to any of those questions. Globalization does make the world a smaller place and does make governments indifferent to one another.

I liked the book. It’s not as engaging or soul shattering as some of the other books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the past few months. That being said, I think this book deserves its place in your cupboard or your kindle.

Karthik

Book review : The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared

Cover Page of the 100 year old man

The hundred year old man who climbed of the window and disappeared, Jonas Jonasson.

Where oh where do I begin. A hundred year old man, Spanish civil war, America’s Atomic bomb, Stalin singing a song, Mao Tse-Tung’s communist ambitions, Kim Il Jong’s legacy in the making, A few presidents, a hot dog seller, an Elephant, a cop on a mission , an Einstein, a prosecutor who wished he had not been born. That’s one convoluted sentence that has way too many characters who converge and fuel madness to this fantastic tale of a warm , hilarious adventure.

Lets take a moment to let all of that sink in.

Phew.. Feeling better? okie dokie. Let us begin.

The hundred year.. is a story of Allan Karlsson. On his hundredth birthday, he decides to climb out of this room in an old age care home. That sets of a wonderful adventure that consumes you with every page that’s turned. Allan is a very ordinary bloke who has had an extraordinary life. There are absolutely two things that Allan does exceptionally well. One, he always manages to have an open mind. Two, he’s good at blowing things up.

An open mind and an uncanny ability to blow things up, these are the two things that fill Allan’s life with a million memories. As the tale continues in the present, we are introduced to roads that he had travelled in the past.

So Allan sneaks out of the old age home, he manages to steal a suitcase that is loaded with money. A mafia-ique gang is after him. A gang that goes by the name ‘ Never Again’. Allan’s escape from the house is now also a escape from the gang. The police get involved. Initially they are called in to find Allan and as the events unfold, the police now suspect Allan of murder. A 100 year old man on a killing spree!

Allan’s life is an adventure. Straight through the Spanish revolution, to America’s hunger for creating the A-Bomb, to Stalin’s desire to make a nuke for the motherland, North Korea’s war for identity, Allan finds himself participating in all these milestones that have shaped up the world. The history is something that will leave you in a sense of awe. The circumstances would leave you laughing.

Besides the adventure, this is a beautiful tale of friendship. Allan bumps into Julius, a bloke with a reputation for being a petty thief. The two become friends and they bump into Benny. Benny’s a hotdog vendor who has almost been a lot of things. The trio meet Gunnila. Gunnila’s the lady of the tale. Gunnila loves sonya. Sonya is her pet elephant.

The bonds of friendship are forged through honesty. As the tale ascends into mad hilarity, you’d grow warm reading the way their friendship evolves. The tale is also a tale of a cat and mouse chase. The inspector, Mr Aronsson , is absolutely relentless in his quest to find Allan.

The book is a light hearted read but it does nurture deeper themes within it. Each of the character , that you’d come to enjoy in time, is plagued by loneliness and solitude. The characters grab the opportunity to connect and take that leap of faith in forming ties with each other. I’d like to see them as a reflection of ourselves. We , most of us, are alienated with the world. We exist in a crowd. While a lot of us have shown that courage to take that leap of faith and invite people into our lives, there are a lot of us who are fenced up. We wait.

The book’s central theme is that of blind optimism. Allan doesn’t really worry a lot about the past or the future. He keeps an open mind and goes with the flow. Life hands him lemons, bananas, vodka, sausages and a lot many other things. He makes a good use of them and powers on. Allan is neither too ambitious nor does express a defeatist view of life. He is one of the grandest examples of living in the present. In a weird sense, he represents a zen-like peace. He remains unperturbed by most things.

The book does take a dig at two of the most influential factors that have shaped up our world. Religion and Politics. Allan doesn’t care for either. He’s not judgemental about them. His point of view offers a neutral stance on how silly that both religion and politics can be.

The book is a happily ever after waiting to happen. It’s a casual, funny breezy read. The plot might seem a bit outlandish at times, but that’s precisely the point. Strap your seatbelts, hang on tight and enjoy the fun ride that is The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared.

Next stop : The Handmaid’s tale.

Karthik

Book review : a man called ove

“Maybe to her destiny was “something”; that was none of his business. But to him, destiny was “someone.”

Coverpage of A man caled Ove

A man called Ove, by Fredrik Backman.

I picked this book because a friend recommended it. To be perfectly honest, it was a spur of the moment decision to quench my curiosity about the book. I dived into its pages without a shimmer of expectation. When I was done with the book, something within me had snapped, there was something that I could spot as odd in the way I lived. With eyes wet with tears, my heart warm with satisfied overwhelmed emotions, it was time to move on to a different book. I did my best to savour the memories of the book and it was precisely because of that pleasure, I delayed writing about it. Words once read, words once written would probably move on to become words once cherished.

Back to the tale, Ove. Ove is an old geezer whom you’d probably dislike. He is a stickler for rules. He incessantly keeps reminding the world around that they don’t follow the dogma that rules are. He’s not much for small talk. It’s hard to enjoy a pleasant conversation with him. Ove is perceived as old, grumpy and chip of the block from a generation that’s been comfortably forgotten. That’s Ove. He’s unapologetic about what you’d think about him. He doesn’t really care. It probably wouldn’t be Ove if he did!

That’s Ove. That would probably be your first reaction to Ove.

The book is a tale of the life of the man who goes by the name Ove. As we get a glimpse of his present, we are also introduced to his past. The story of what he is now feels almost incomplete without seeing the story of what he was before. As we catch up on his past, we also find ourselves getting very eager about his present and the course of his future.

Hidden away in the tale is one of the most romantic relationship that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Far away from clichés of roses are red, violets are blue, I got a letters of love and you need a stick of glue, there is a beautiful story of romance that blossoms and grows warmer and warmer till it occupies every inch of your heart and soaks you with its warmth. Ove and his wife Sonja. Theirs is a very romantic relationship which is very far away from dramatic and cinematic romance. Theirs is a world of sweet nothings, a wonderful intersection of two people’s very distinct life that come together and form a pleasant harmony. We , as readers, witness a cute love that they both share. Theirs is a kind of love that span through health and sickness. It spans across life and death. It’s a kind of a love that refuses to die away despite death at it’s doors.

Ove does have a secret. He knows how to solve all his woes and wants to put an end to his misery. Only, it’s not his time yet. It’s just about the right time for Ove to be thrust into a world of people around him. His world is all set to explode. Cue in the people around Ove.

The secondary characters are phenomenal. They are vivid and colourful and blend blissfully into the life of Ove. Parvaneh, a pregnant Iranian lady , her daughters, the Lanky one, Ove and Rune’s big conflicts, you’d fall in love with everyone in Ove’s world.

There are wonderful themes that are explored in the book. It offers us a glance into questions like, What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean when people say that lives are meant to be colourful?

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had”

Ove’s story is a gentle reminder that sometimes our lives are meaningless without our special people in it. It calls out the similarities between existing for existence sake and living void of colors and emotions. It is through Ove, we get to assess our own hues about life. Ove’s story is also a wonderful example of going with the flow and letting life take it’s own course.

We are a product of what we choose to be and the people we let into our lives.

Would I recommend his book? ABSOLUTELY. Go ahead and grab yourself a copy today. You wont regret it.

Next stop :The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

Karthik

Book review : His bloody project

Cover page of His bloody project

His bloody project , G M B.

I picked this book because , 1. The cover page looked awesome. 2. It was heavily discounted. 3. I wasn’t thinking much when I picked the book.

In a short span a few months, I had comfortably moved away from comforts of reading murders and the satisfaction of accompanying a sharp mind in deciphering the twisted mind of a heinous bloke. While this was the genre that got me into reading, I had found myself moving towards other philosophies of life. I had this book for nearly six months before I eventually got to it.

I was impressed with the book. Yup, it makes for a well constructed , gripping narrative.

This is a story of a boy , Roderick Macrae. His not so simple life leads to a not so simple situation. Roddy is charged with manslaughter of not one but three people. The story is not a cat and a mouse chase of who-dun-it. With the dirty deed done cheap, the story kicks off with Roddy’s confession of the murders. Soaked in mind, Roddy goes on to getting himself imprisoned.

Now that was a twist in the tale that got me intrigued about the book. While in prison, Roddy is encouraged to write a memoir of the things that eventually transpired in the act of cold blooded murders.

The book is split into three sections. Roddy’s memoir of things that led to the murder. Roddy’s present in the prison. The retelling of the trail that decided upon his fate. I found the trial to be extremely engaging. Cheap thrills. The court room drama was both efficient and thrilling. I particularly enjoyed the sequence that the book follows. The memoir and Roddy’s time in the present are beautifully unravelled. With each page turned, one finds oneself closer to the nature of Roddy’s life.

There are brilliant questions that the book leaves us, the audience, with.

‘If an insane bloke proclaims to be insane, is the bloke really insane?’.

‘What justifies a murder?’ .

The book also explores the environment that nurtures a mind which readies itself to carry out the crime.

Are we born a murderer or do we grow into that role?

I did enjoy reaching my own conclusions about Roddy. I am intrigued by my not so ‘black and white’ outlook towards moralities of life. I’ll let you experience the narrative and form your own opinion about the curious case of Mr Roddy.

The horror that humans are capable of chilled me to the bone. Now that I think about it, it doesn’t take a lot for something within us to snap and embrace the animal in us. The book explores the simple clarity of a damaged mind’s conclusion that eventually does lead to a murder. Murders rather.

Maybe this book is not for everyone, then again, the whole act of murder is contained within a chapter. I guess in that sense, this can be picked without too much fuss.

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the thoughts it left me with. The greatness of a book is not measured by the words used to describe it, its measured by the amount of thoughts it leaves , once that story is read. In that respect, this book manages to achieve just that.

Karthik

Book Review : Atonement

Coverpage of the Book : Atonement

Atonement by Ian McEwan

There is something so familiar in this book that struck a chord. It’s a tale of an affair with words, the world of imagination , the choices made and consequences eventually atoned for.

This is a story of Ms Briony Tallis. She’s a bored little teenager who dreams big of being a writer one day. A summer that changes her life and the lives of people around her. The story is set amidst the boredom of this girl, her way of coping up with the boredom by imagining a world of drama and thematic challenges. With her brother Leon returning back home from university, it presents her with a wonderful opportunity of hosting a play to entertain the guests.

Briony’s world is her home, her sister Cecillia , Robbie; who is the son of the housekeeper who helps around the Tallis household, Lola and the twins who are her aunt’s kids and are guests in the house. Briony engages Lola and the twins to take part in her play. Briony has a change of heart and decides to call off the play.

She also happens to witness the raw and crude strained love that Cecillia and Robbie share. Her age of ignorance and naïve innocence, her lack of understanding of young blossoming love, her pampered outlook towards life, all of this results in her bearing witness to Robbie assaulting Lola. Briony’s testament , her dedicated unwavering conviction to her testimony seals Robbie’s fate.

The story then branches out to its next two acts. Set in the backdrop of Dunkirk, Robbie is now a man, a solider who has one and only reason that drives him to survive the war and return home to his one true love Cecillia. Robbie , of course, is innocent of the crime that he was charged with, finds it hard to forgive Briony but also wants Cec to unite with her family and sister again. The incident had fractured the family and the lives of its people. Forgiveness becomes a commodity that is not easily exchanged.

Act three revolves around Briony’s penance. In time, she realizes the magnitude of her childish act. Now fully aware of the consequences of her actions, the striking difference between words of fiction and words that are stated in the real world, Briony is plagued with the knowledge that her thirst for fiction and drama in life had resulted in fractured lives. Briony decides to face the consequences of bearing the truth.

Atonement is a book that bored me to hell. The pace was slower than a dead horse trying to drag itself from point a to b. While the premise was promising, the execution lacked drama and was far away from it’s potential. Briony’s atonement was barely a crescendo. It fizzed away and drowned in distracted narration , much like a sound of triangle getting lost in a blaring orchestra. By the time one reaches the end, we don’t feel Briony’s burden, we don’t share her guilt, we remain unaffected by the choices of the characters.

I’m glad that this was the last of the 5 that I picked up. Another day, another book read, another lessons learnt and a few ones skipped. I wish I felt inspired to explore the themes that the book covered. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with it to bother that effort.

If you have the time to kill, if someone gifted you this book and you feel compelled to not cheat, not sneak up the plot in Wiki, then have fun reading the book.

Karthik

Book review : Norwegian Wood

Cover Page of Norwegian Wood, Murakami

Norwegian wood by Haruki Murakami.

It is an infinitely difficult tale for me to review. It’s not because the tale is beyond a justifiable review, it’s solely because I am blinded by the emotions that I’d bring to the table when I talk about this book. I shall do my best to alienate myself from the book while I attempt to review this Masterpiece.

Norwegian wood, a song by The Beatles, also happens to be the song that the leading lady of the tale likes. Naoko. Toru Watanabe is the narrator and this story revolves around his life, how it intersects with Naoko , Reiko and Midori. The book is a testament to the predictability of how unpredictable our reasoning becomes when we face challenges that test our emotional stability. In short, Love, is the most predictable means to call out how we become unpredictable because of it.

N.W is a simple tale of love. Toru, his best friend Kizuki and K’s girlfriend Naoko are a trio. The story takes place when Toru is aged 17. Kizuki kills himself which leaves a void in Naoko and Toru’s lives. It’s a void that is beyond repair. It leaves a gaping hole in their lives. Toru and Naoko move to Tokyo, each pursuing their education. Toru and Naoko seem to find solace between themselves and Naoko , one fine day, exiles herself from Toru’s life. Toru feels the icy talons of isolation once again.

He later comes to know that Naoko , who is suffering from depression, has checked herself into an institution. Naoko reaches out to him through letters. Toru makes it a point to visit her and that’s when they meet Reiko. Reiko is Naoko’s roomie and she’s also a victim of a breakdown. There is a new trio that is formed.

While all of this happens, Toru meets Midori and finds her to be full of life, a quality that he misses both in his life and that in Naoko. She represents everything that Toru misses. Toru is in love with Naoko. Naoko is imprisoned by her depression. She’s a broken version of what she can be. She’s unable to reciprocate that love. Her solitude leaves Toru in a state of solitude. Midori start to fall for Toru and he feels the conflict.

So far the plot of the book does point towards the simple fact that love can get as complicated as one wants it to be. It’s not the mere words of love that this book represents. It is a hurricane of emotions that each of the character expresses. The volatile nature of emotions, the impact of such emotions on our lives, the way our lives affect the lives of folks around us, and this book absolutely , precisely rams the hammer down the perfect nail.

As the protagonist suffers the misery of helplessness of his love, we feel his pain. We feel the pain and misery that keeps Naoko trapped. Her inability to jolt herself off her depression, the toll and strain that has on the love, the residual sadness and guilt of Kizuki’s death, a world of walls keep the lovers apart. Toru’s love for Naoko keeps him disconnected from Midori. Midori’s solitude finds comforts in Toru.

It’s not hard to imagine the way love flourishes through pain and sadness. Each character is trapped , waiting and longing for that special attention. Each character denies that special attention to someone that desperately seeks from them. We are left with human nature in its rawest unblemished form.

What happens to the love? Whose love finally endures the test of time? Whose battle with depression, loneliness finally sees the light of dawn? The story goes on to conclude in the most fashionable way that readers of Murakami are now used to.

I loved this book. This book struck a chord and I couldn’t keep myself away from living the characters in my head. The book expresses a lot of themes.

We find it hard to accept but the under appreciated truth to many of us is the fact that we put our happiness in someone else’s hands. The tale is a testament to that fact. There is the side of love that the book ventures into. Love, while is empowering, it also has the capacity to render us helpless. There is frustrated helplessness plastered across the walls of this tale. Then comes the big elephant in the room, Depression. What I loved the most about the book is that it portrayed a picture of Love in the time of a depression. I guess it’s hard in real life as it’s conveyed in the book.

The book also explores the fact that people are drawn to certain people. Toru is broken inside, he finds himself gravitating towards Naoko, Midori and Reiko, and all of them are broken too. Like attracts like, I’d presume. There is a certain nativity in such pain. We draw and reach out to similar folks.

This book is most definitely not about giving up on life. The broken lives of Toru and Naoko represent the baggage of the past. Midori represents the present. Reiko represents the way future unfolds. It’s a convoluted thought that connects the characters to the linearity of time. But that’s how I see it. Toru and Naoko are anchored to the past and hence neither is able to move on. Midori on the other hand, represents life. She’s the one character that makes choices in the right time. It’s just a matter of time for her to realize if her choices were right or wrong. Reiko represents the future. She is both an outcome of the past, and also changes with changes to the choices that are made in the present.

For what it’s worth, somewhere , some time in the future, I’ll read this again. I love this book!

Karthik

Book Review : One hundred years of solitude

A hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a stifling tale of the Buendia family. It picks off with Jose Arcadio Buendia and a lot of kids named Jose Arcadio and Aureliano later, the book speaks about the very meaning of solitude that does transcend generations in the Buendia family. There is no short and easy way to capture the tale. It is a progressive journey that makes us ponder all the way at every stage and every generation that gets added to the family tree.

The characters are obviously the strength of the book. Jose Arcadio Buendia, his wife Ursula , their kids Aureliano Buendia and Jose Arcadio Buendia and daughters Amaranta and Rebeca are wonderfully pictured across the many pages of the book. The madness kicks off with the third generation. As the family tree expands, one can't resist but observe the way the solitude of their lives concentrate to grow into the very core of what that represents the family.

The book is a masterpiece. The varying degrees of solitude that is captured , painted, lived and experienced by the characters is a true enough reflection of the loneliness that plagues our own lives. In that sense, this book blurs the boundaries between real and fiction. Loneliness is , as experienced through both life and the confines of the book, not a single event that occurs at a random single point in time. It is a circle of sorts. Lives that have loneliness at their epicentre, have the capacity to travel the world, meet a million people, share a million laughs and yet embrace the cold arms of being lonely. The book does not shy away from introducing us to this aspect of loneliness. It's not the number of people that we are surrounded by, it's just how many do we let into our mind that calls out the solitude.

Coming to the plot, it's convoluted. J.A.B is in a pursuit of lot of things. Science, truth, alchemy, business acumen, gypsies and the many wonderful mysteries and secrets that they have in their hearts. The purist pursuit pushes him to the brink of alienation. Ursala, his wife, most definitely the strongest woman in this saga of men and women, works towards keeping the family together. She's a miracle worker and through the century of her existence, you'd fall in love with her tryst and will sympathise with her life.

Aureliano , who grows up into Colonel Aureliano; a man of legend, a man who led the civil war (oh yeah, a civil war breaks out between liberals and conservatives) a bloke with a loooooooooooooooooot of kids, a man consumed by ideologies and a man who hits upon a crystal realization that helps him view the war. The way Aureliano matures, grows drunk with power, very much outlines the life of those among us who crave that power for the reasons that helps us sleep at night. Aureliano does not beat around the bush and hide behind the veils of denial. This is a man who knows the price that he pays for the choices he's made.

The plot dwells across a few touch points. The life of J.A.B, the rise and fall of the colonel, the tribunals of Jose Arcadio, the mystery that Amaranta is. The rivalry between the sisters, Amaranta and Rebeca. Throw in kids, their kids, their kids and we have a tale that constantly keeps converging. That segways us to the themes explored in the book.

The entire tale is set in the town of Mocondo. All characters manage to find their way back home. Of course, they do leave their homes , the course of life kicks in, they all revert to Mocondo for varying reasons. That convergence of life itself is a theme that is expressed in the book. No matter how far we are from our roots, we still gravitate towards it in some capacity.

Then comes the ghosts. Yes there are ghosts in the tale. Ghosts , to me, represent the past. They are a bridge to a point in time in the past. These ghosts do not haunt everybody. They are selective. Which is a reflection of how our choices in life are anchored and defined by our past. The longer we indulge in the past, the longer we stay haunted by it, the longer we struggle to come to terms with it, the longer we find ourselves struggle to reconcile with the present.

Solitude, a word that is featured in the tile, plays a major role in the book. The book is a testament to the misery that is life. It is there because we let it be. All the characters experience that alienated loneliness. Some, because of their choices. Some , because of the way how fate intervenes. The way the characters deal with their solitude is a fantastic portrayal of how we cope up with the coldness of our lives. Drowned in work, lost in passion, we exhibit the same symptoms that the characters do.

I enjoyed the book. I loved peeking into the lives across generations of the family. I smiled at the simple fact that most of the characters were trapped in time, caged in habit and resistance was futile. It did make me wonder. I couldn't tell where the fictitious nature of the tale blurred and where the mirror to the society started.

Give it a read. 🙂

Karthik