It took me a little less than 2 days to finish this book. At first I couldn't quite figure out what the book was about. It starts with 67-year-old Tro...moreIt took me a little less than 2 days to finish this book. At first I couldn't quite figure out what the book was about. It starts with 67-year-old Trond going about his daily life in a remote cabin in the woods and reminiscing about the summer when he was 15 years old and went "out stealing horses" with his best friend. Another novel about a troubled old man's reflections of a cruel world??? Do I need another endlessly bleak narrative and adolescent brooding even when it reeks of Thoreau? But then the power of the melancholic Nordic landscape seeps in with every turning page. At one point I stopped caring about what was happening in the protagonist's life and found myself lost in the beauty of the words describing the frozen north. At its heart the book is about a teenage boy's relationship with his father. But its also a coming of age tale, of a family destroyed by the worst of tragedies, of lives in Norway during WWII but above all it a tale of friendship surviving all odds.
Or at least that is what I know about the book.
"People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook. No-one can touch you unless you yourself want them to. You only have to be polite and smile and keep paranoid thoughts at bay, because they will talk about you no matter how much you squirm, it is inevitable, and you would do the same thing yourself." (less)
I never read Roth before although I have had a copy of "The Human Stain" for ages now. That book came highly recommended from all quarters but the fir...moreI never read Roth before although I have had a copy of "The Human Stain" for ages now. That book came highly recommended from all quarters but the first few pages very too dry for my taste and I couldn’t commit myself to that book because it seemed to require a high level of patience with unwieldy dialogues.
Compared to that, "The Ghost Writer" is short and crisp, reads more like three short novellas and can be read within a day.
This novel introduces us to a young Nathan Zuckerman at the start of his career. He has published a few short stories and has been profiled by a magazine and this little taste of fame prompts him to pursue the next great Jewish American story. In his pursuit he goes off to meet his literary hero E. I. Lonoff, a middle-aged reclusive writer whose mantra to great writing happens to be "turn sentences around". There he meets Miss Amy Bellette who works as Lonoff's unofficial assistant and has a secret history of her own (or so it seems). Zuckerman ends up staying the night at his place and discovers a few of his mentor's secrets which could threaten Lonoff's marriage.
I love the straight forward language and the characterisation. All characters are imbued with flaws which define their whole identities. The book is full of surprises but not overbearingly so. There is a subtle tension, especially in the last novella which keeps the pace interesting. The conversations between Lonoff and Zuckerman are intriguing and wise. The only part of the book that didn’t work for me was the ending, a little too melodramatic and predictable. If Roth had handled the last few pages with a little more aesthetic and mellowed it down a bit, the book would have definitely achieved 4.5/5 stars.
If I didn’t respect books so much I'd have ripped this one up into pieces and felt quite happy about it. I don’t even know where to begin describing m...moreIf I didn’t respect books so much I'd have ripped this one up into pieces and felt quite happy about it. I don’t even know where to begin describing my dislike for this book. Some words that come to mind are stupid, irritating, unconvincing, fake naivety, offensive, shallow and just plain bad. Skip this one, read Anne Frank instead. (less)
I feel I am very fortunate to own a very old hard bound copy of this beautiful book, gifted to me by one of my colleagues. The first time I heard abou...moreI feel I am very fortunate to own a very old hard bound copy of this beautiful book, gifted to me by one of my colleagues. The first time I heard about it was on Qi and Stephen Fry was wearing a red camellia on his lapel and his guests were supposed to guess which book he represented. After reading the book I came to realise the significance of red and white camellias. The setting is mid-19th century Paris, very glamorous and extravagant, where parties and conversations are very rich and morality very libertine.
The book starts with the death of a very well known courtesan and is narrated to the author by Armand Duval who is on his death-bed. Marguerite Gautier is a lady of the night famous for her beauty and desired by many a rich men. But she falls for the young Armand Duval who although not penniless cannot afford her the luxuries that she has been accustomed to all her life. Still they both are in love and they try to make a life together, adjusting and compromising and are very happy the few months that they are together. But their relationship never receives sanction from Duvall senior or the society in general and then comes the big sacrifice of love etc.
The book reminded me so much of the movie Moulin Rouge and I guess quite a few other movies and books are based on this theme too. This premise may seem clichéd and done to death now but I guess The Lady of the Camellias was one of the first to tackle it. A beautiful novel of tragic romance and sacrifice, I wish it was as well regarded as other great literary love stories. (less)
This is one of the wittiest, most hilarious books I have read in quite a while. I was quite uncertain about picking up this book because the only humo...moreThis is one of the wittiest, most hilarious books I have read in quite a while. I was quite uncertain about picking up this book because the only humour or sarcasm that I really enjoy is written by Oscar Wilde. Previous experiences have taught me not to expect much LOL-inducing wittiness from other authors because they generally pale in comparison. But with The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, even before the book, the introduction caught me, hook, line and sinker.
"One or two friends to whom I showed these papers in MS having observed that they were not half bad, and some of my relations having promised to buy the book if it ever came out, I feel I have no right to longer delay its issue. But for this, as one may say, public demand, I perhaps should not have ventured to offer these mere 'idle thoughts' of mine as mental food for the English-speaking peoples of the earth. What readers ask nowadays in a book is that it should improve, instruct and elevate. This book wouldn't elevate a cow. I cannot conscientiously recommend it for any useful purposes whatever. All I can suggest is that when you get tired of reading 'the best hundred books', you may take this up for half an hour. It will be a change."
It’s not every day that one comes across satire of such quality or honesty. The essays cover a wide range of topics; from pets to babies to blues and clothing. I deliberately restricted myself to reading just an essay a day and most of the time I couldn't read this book in public because every other sentence is ridiculously funny and I’d break into peals of laughter at regular intervals drawing weird looks from the strangers around me. I thoroughly enjoyed these idle thoughts and Jerome K. Jerome just became one of my favourite authors of all time. It’s amazing how most of his insights and observations are relevant even after more than a century of the first publication of the book. I guess great humour is classic.
I am not a big fan of Ian McEwan. I was just impressed with a few pages of "The Cement Garden", especially the infamous lines "Girls can wear jeans an...moreI am not a big fan of Ian McEwan. I was just impressed with a few pages of "The Cement Garden", especially the infamous lines "Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short and wear shirts and boots because it's okay to be a boy; for girls it's like promotion. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, according to you, because secretly you believe that being a girl is degrading." But the book didn't leave much of an impression on me and I had to read "Black Dogs" to keep my faith in his writing going. This book leaves me neither here nor there. I love the crisp writing and the fact that it is a very quick read (took me a little over 1.5 hours) despite trying to be a serious/mature book. But its too flimsy to be Booker Prize material. I guess its the shortest Booker winner ever, not that a book's merit lies in its size.
Anyways, the story revolves around two friends, Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday who meet again at a common lover's funeral who has died under miserable circumstances. Presently both are entagled in professional issues which take up the bulk of the writing. Clive can't seem to get enough inspiration to finish the Millennium Symphony he has been commissioned for. Vernon, as the editor of "The Judge" is engaged in an ethical debate about whether or not to publish incriminating pictures of a powerful politician he personally loathes. Reminiscing about the past together, they remember their own lives with Molly Lane and that leads then to make a pact.
My biggest problem with the book is the light-handed treatment of strong subjects like active euthanasia, duties as a citizen and freedom of press. Sometimes its just downright funny how shallow the arguments are. I know the book isnt primarily about any of these topics but maybe a little bit of soul searching would have added a lot of credibility. The characters seem forced and too self-righteous. The ending is too bizarre and unrealistic. Now to balance the equation for McEwan I need to read something by him which is absolutely genius.
The first thing that struck me that even though it was written in 1890 the language is very modern. It is a distressing book narrated by an unnamed pr...moreThe first thing that struck me that even though it was written in 1890 the language is very modern. It is a distressing book narrated by an unnamed protagonist who is having a hard time making ends meet in Christiania. The descent of this young writer into poverty and despair and finally into starvation and delusions whilst staying true to his craft makes for a remarkable story even when there is not much else going on. The best thing about the character is that he never loses his sense of humour even on the verge of insanity. Even at its worst the book is funny which makes the narrator’s deterioration a little more credible and humane. The writer makes no effort to romanticize the notion of the “starving artist” nor does he eulogize the sacredness of life. He presents humanity the way it exists; indifferent. The beauty of the book lies in the juxtaposition of love and hope against misery and apathy.
This book definitely had me thinking differently about the people living on the edges of society. What do words like dignity and art mean to someone who has nothing left to lose? I was waiting for the moment when the narrator goes into an all out nihilist rant but a few sentences of blasphemy and he is back to his old ways. It’s his therapy in a way. Sometimes the book got so intense that I had to stop and breathe for a few seconds. Hunger has all the elements of becoming an all time favourite but the ending leaves me wanting for more. It ends just as abruptly as it starts.
This book is a prime example of ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ or even by the blurb on its back. I had this book on my wishlist for ages with so ma...moreThis book is a prime example of ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ or even by the blurb on its back. I had this book on my wishlist for ages with so many expectations and it just fell flat on its face. No, just no. It is a retelling of some of the most well-known fairy tales gone horribly wrong. Connolly has attempted to write the narrative in the form similar to a fairy-tale and as with the most annoying of fairy tales, it is predictable to the last word. Clichés after clichés after clichés. And what’s with the over-explanation in the end? Read this book if you really obsessed with everything fairy tale or anything YA.(less)
It took me a long time to pick up this book to read. I have owned it since 2001 when I bought a copy, second-hand of course, from the shabby street ve...moreIt took me a long time to pick up this book to read. I have owned it since 2001 when I bought a copy, second-hand of course, from the shabby street vendors lining the narrow lanes of the college district in South Bombay. It was the book to be seen reading in those days but that wasn’t reason enough for me to buy it or any other book in my life. I was told that it was the greatest book ever written, that it’ll change my life forever, that in order for anyone to even start recognizing the fundamentals of an ideal human-being, this was the book to begin with. The boys in my class all loved it. They discussed it at great length; arguing and defending the characters which best defined themselves. Of course being the only girl in my class I wasn’t included because as one of them ironically remarked (and I remember correctly) reading this book required a “higher plane of intelligence”. The remark made me cringe and I felt so ashamed of my own choices that I wanted to run away and hide my well thumbed copies of Keats and Dickinson in a deep well because poetry was for dumb sissies, duh!!!
Now finally, having read it after all these years I feel like laughing at myself because the book is nothing but utter rubbish full of pretentious assholes and to be bragged about by pretentious assholes. If there was a higher message in the book that I missed because of my “lower plane of intelligence” I am extremely glad that I did because if ever I have to judge a person based on their reading, this book will definitely be the deal breaker.
I won’t even mention Objectivism and Ayn Rand’s (fatally flawed) philosophy that Fountainhead is supposed to be the manifesto of. That’s a matter of another post.
I want to talk about “The Fountainhead”, the book. The plot revolves around Howard Roark, the epitome of individualism and his lifelong battle with society. It constantly pits Roark against an array of adversaries: Roark (Creator) against Keating (Parasite); Roark (Individualism) against Toohey (Collectivism) and Roark (Dominance) against Dominique (Submissiveness). There isn’t much of a story but Rand managed to milk 700+ pages out of it. That’s the advantage of repeating a handful of scenes over and over again. All the while I was reading this, I wished it would rain and plentifully, because the prose is so dry.
Rand’s characters are insufferably black & white, predictable and self-absorbed. They break into didactic 5-page monologues at the drop of a hat. There is by far only one character that comes close to being well-rounded, Gail Wynand and he ends shooting himself in the head. If I was stuck in a book for all eternity with one dimensional pricks I’d have done the same. Another thing that is jarring my nerves is the treatment of rape in this book. It took me a great deal of effort to overcome the disgust of the rape scene and the subsequent appalling justification.
A few people on goodreads recommend this book for those interested in architecture. Having read a few books on the subject I’d say that this book is to architecture what “Angels and Demons” is to CERN. Pretty much nothing.
The book masquerades selfishness as morality and altruism as a sign of weakness. The book promotes the belief of self above everything else and this might seem enchanting when you are a teenager, fancying yourself an idealist and oh-so-misunderstood. But I doubt I’d have thought any differently if I had read it in 2001, there was absolutely no connection with the book. I’ll highly recommend The Fountainhead to anyone who needs a solid example of “How not to write a book”.
I bought this book because it’s on BBC's list of top 200 books of all time and this year I wish to read my way through the list. So far I have read 38...moreI bought this book because it’s on BBC's list of top 200 books of all time and this year I wish to read my way through the list. So far I have read 38/200 books. Another reason why I bought this particular copy is because it's filled with so much of marginalia that it looks like someone has used this book as their journal or notebook. Every available blank space is used for little notes and observations and personal thoughts, no doubt belonging to an over-worked literature student. I love such kind of book, it takes the pressure off of forming my own opinions.
"It sometimes entered Mr. Pontillier’s mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world."
The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontieller, a 29-years-old mother of two, living in an age before Feminism became a revolution. On a summer vacation in Grand Isle, she meets and falls in love with a younger man Robert Leburn who is completely enchanted with her. She enjoys her time on the island and the attention Robert showers on her and that leads to her dreaming of an ideal life of an artist, far from the domestic, constrictive life she live according to societal norms. When Robert leave for Mexico and Edna returns to the city and to her (loveless) married life she embarks on a journey to self-actualization. She begins to rediscover her sense of self and her calling of being an artist, moves out of her mansion in to a pigeon hole, has an affair with a local playboy and in the end, still failing to find happiness drowns herself in the ocean.
Now here is my problem with the story and maybe I am just seeing this wrong but Edna doesn’t necessarily comes across as an oppressed woman at all. Since the onset she pretty much does whatever she pleases, when she pleases. Chopin's attempt to give Edna a little more depth and weight age by contrasting her rebel-feminist "otherness" to that of conforming traditional role of Adele Ratignolle goes so completely awry that one ends up hating both the characters. I never felt any sympathy towards Edna but did feel sorry for her two small children. There isn’t enough substance to tag her motives as anything other than selfish. This is by far the worst of feminist literature that I have ever read.