I always thought that Indian mythology deserves to get more street cred than it does. The Immortals of Meluha attempts to do this, but it doesn't quit...moreI always thought that Indian mythology deserves to get more street cred than it does. The Immortals of Meluha attempts to do this, but it doesn't quite succeed. The back of the book states that the author is a "boring banker turned happy author". I am glad that writing has brought Amish Tripathi happiness but you don't doubt the boring banker bit once you start reading.
This is not a bad book, but it is a pretty badly-written one. It drips with that terrible MBA-textbook English that makes fiction sound like a brochure for haemorrhoid medication. Some of the writing is so clunky and out of place that you wonder how it got past any editor. For example, there is a scene in the beginning of the book where Shiva's tribe, having survived a massacre by a rival tribe, makes the difficult decision to leave their home in Tibet for India. They are met by an "orientation officer" and directed to the "registration desk". In 1900 BC. I practically cried when I read that bit, I'm not even kidding.
The editors must have been charmed enough by the story and the characters to look past the painful writing, and I can understand why. For all the shortcomings in his writing, Tripathi is a good world-builder. His Meluha is imaginative and complex and you can see how much thought he has put into even the most insignificant details. I particularly liked the battles, which went beyond simple adrenaline and blood, concentrating on strategy as well.
What impressed me most, though, was the surprisingly layered attitude of the book. Tripathi avoids lapsing into a black and white view with paper heroes and straw villains. Meluha might be the gold standard for empires but it is also a rigidly stratified society with questionable philosophies. Swadeep might be a chaotic mess of a city (I laughed out loud at the obvious shout-out to Bombay) but one which values freedom and individual choice. Through Shiva, the book asks if the truth of our beliefs might not be more complex than we imagine it to be. This extends to the characters as well, most of whom are believably human with both flaws and strengths.
The swearing, pot-smoking Shiva of the story makes for very likeable protagonist; a frank and forthright reluctant messiah in the finest tradition of frank and forthright reluctant messiahs, although his fanboying over Ram seems out of character. Sati was a refreshing change from the decorative, bland, arm candy that Bollywood loves and she had one of the most epic fight scenes in the book. Shiva and Sati's relationship, though slightly mawkish at times is, on the whole, well sketched out and easy to root for.
And this is what frustrates me the most, that a well-conceived story like this should be hampered by such juvenile writing, especially when the author's earnestness is evident. I think this would have been better off as a screenplay for a big-budget Hollywood-style blockbuster (although hopefully, with better acting) where the clever ideas and engaging plot could be in focus.(less)
I'm rather tired of Agatha Christie now but I liked this one, mainly for turning around two things I found most tiresome about her books - the whole t...moreI'm rather tired of Agatha Christie now but I liked this one, mainly for turning around two things I found most tiresome about her books - the whole terribly-virile-man and feisty-brunette combo and the embarrassing values dissonance. The reveal is a little clumsy but I've honestly read worse. (less)
I really must stop reading random Agatha Christie mysteries as a diversion while trying to read heavier books. They're always fun and don't really ins...moreI really must stop reading random Agatha Christie mysteries as a diversion while trying to read heavier books. They're always fun and don't really insult the reader's intelligence but they do tend to get a little repetitive. And I know this values dissonance is just a reflection of how different things were in Christie's time, but the xenophobia is really grating. Especially when you're supposed to sympathise with a woman who is willing to disown members of her family simply because their father is Greek! Really?! It can be argued that Dr Tanios is slightly redeemed towards the end but it's tiresome to read the kind of statements that are spouted in the beginning. (less)
I love reading Agatha Christie for the same reasons I like eating junk food - it's fast, easy and enjoyable when I want a change from more sensible st...moreI love reading Agatha Christie for the same reasons I like eating junk food - it's fast, easy and enjoyable when I want a change from more sensible stuff. And like junk food, there's often a not-so-pleasant aftertaste to it. In this case, it's the values dissonance I experience while reading some of her books. The old timey racism and imperialist attitudes are difficult to digest, especially when they come from characters you're supposed to root for. I just can't sympathize with her pukka sahibs, nor with statements that imply that being English means hating on every foreigner you meet.
However, the plot in this book was entertaining as usual, and I did like the second twist towards the end. (less)
Another book picked out because of the setting, but the Newfoundland coast in The Shipping News is bleak and harsh. Still, I enjoyed this book mainly...moreAnother book picked out because of the setting, but the Newfoundland coast in The Shipping News is bleak and harsh. Still, I enjoyed this book mainly because of Annie Proulx's writing, it has this strange manner of being sometimes sparse and sometimes detailed, sometimes both at the same time. There's a poetry in her words, like when she talks of the house "garlanded with wind" or of, "The bay showed on the map as a chemist's pale blue flask into which poured ocean."
Quoyle makes for an interesting protagonist and I liked the little things the author slips in about him, things like buying dolls for his children. The other characters, all with equally striking names - Billy Pretty, Wavey Prowse, Beaufield Nutbeem - hold their own and are believable. The book is peppered with stories that are interesting little snippets of local folklore.
The reason I can't give this book a higher rating despite being well-written and moving is because it does get a little too bleak in parts for me. Quoyle becomes too much of an omega male sometimes and frankly, his lingering affection for Petal is mystifying. There's a desolation that snakes through the book, whether in the form of the sexual abuse stories that are one of the selling points of the newspaper Quoyle works at, the story of the Home boys or even the malodorous Tertius Card. No doubt it was Proulx's decision to show that there's slush as well as pristine ice in the world. Still, sometimes the book weighs heavily even if there is optimism and a happy ending.(less)
I discovered Sherman Alexie on the Never Ending Book Quiz here on Goodreads (it's becoming a good source of new books for me). I wanted to read The Lo...moreI discovered Sherman Alexie on the Never Ending Book Quiz here on Goodreads (it's becoming a good source of new books for me). I wanted to read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven but since I couldn't find that book, I decided on this one instead.
Reservation Blues had me hooked from the start, when Robert Johnson and the devil (in his guitar) walk onto the Spokane Indian Reservation and meet Thomas Builds-the-Fire. My favourite thing about the book were the characters. Finally, real people with real hopes and fears, virtues and vices. Not antiquated, Hollywood-approved versions of themselves. Mr. Alexie refers to the restraining power of this farce throughout the book: "Indian men have started to believe their own publicity and run around acting like the Indians in movies". I like the fact that the characters seamlessly blend universal experiences - I could definitely relate to them in a lot of ways - with their Indian identities. It was also interesting to read of them as distinct tribes with their own distinct cultures, such as when Father Arnold wonders why the Spokane aren't hunting buffalo: "... Indians were always hunting buffalo on television" and is told "It was those dang Sioux Indians. Those Sioux always get to be on television.". I loved Thomas; he is such a genuine, decent man and I loved the way his relationship with Chess Warm Water develops: "Thomas smiled at her. He had just met the only Indian who told stories like his". But I also found myself caring about Victor Joseph and Junior Polatkin and their friendship. It's a testament to Mr. Alexie's skill in drawing believable characters that he can create bullies with depth - not just Victor and Joseph, but also Michael White Hawk. I also liked the minor characters: The Man-Who-Was-Probably-Lakota (I have a feeling I'll meet him again in another of the author's books), the backward driving Simon, Mr. Alexie's version of Robert Johnson, Big Mom, even Thomas' dad during his impromptu basketball match against the tribal cops.
The magic-realist tone of the book is rich and absorbing - whether it is the music that sets fire to everything, the Fed Ex guy, Thomas' stories, the character's dreams or the horses. I found the latter a frightening, fascinating element in the story and the scene in the beginning of the book with Big Mom and the screaming horses is powerful and chilling. Even the ironical names of some of the characters - Sheridan and Wright, Betty and Veronica - give an oddly phantasmagorical feeling to the book, especially towards the end. I liked the unsettling humour and the way the fantastic throws reality into even sharper relief - which after all, is the sign of magic realism well utilised (and a relief from the superficial acid-pixie nature of many books in the genre).
The book doesn't gloss over all that isn't pretty: the poverty and alcoholism on reservations, substandard government rations and unemployment, the hopelessness experienced by so many young Indians and the duplicity of mainstream culture which is willing to accept Indians - as long as they're not too Indian. The ending - or at least, the events leading up to it - gave me the blues, naturally, but it was well-written and it felt real. What happens to the band's music deal is more common than imagined: Indians and non-Indians alike can discover that artistic integrity and music industry turnovers don't go hand in hand. Thomas' reaction on receiving Betty and Veronica's letter is moving, especially when you note the contrast between their lyrics and those of the band's that start off the chapters. Junior's fate: how many times has it already happened to Indians on reservations across the country? But for me, the most heartbreaking - there really is no other word for it - was the scene with Victor in the end: "That little explosion of the beer can opening sounded exactly like a smaller, slower version version if the explosion that Junior's rifle made on the water tower." When I first read it, it seemed ominous but perhaps his "Fuck it, I can do it too" is more optimistic than I imagine? I sincerely hope so; that there is some hope for him in the end, too. I liked the tone of the last words, optimistic without being complacent. They say that yes, life is hard, tragedies happen but sometimes, you just got to be happy you survived and try and make it better.
I don't know how much reservation life has changed in the sixteen years since this book was written, but Wikipedia tells me that reservation Indians are more likely to live in poverty than any other demographic, even now. There's still high unemployment, suicide and alcohol and drug abuse. I think in that case, books like Reservation Blues, books written by American Indians themselves become all the more important: so that the people in the statistics can become real and their problems discussed with logic and dignity.(less)
I liked this collection of Sioux folktales. Many of them felt familiar and I think I might have read a couple as a child myself, or perhaps it is just...moreI liked this collection of Sioux folktales. Many of them felt familiar and I think I might have read a couple as a child myself, or perhaps it is just the wonderfully universal nature of folklore?
Of all the stories, I particularly liked the Sioux creation myths about the Little Boy Man and of Unktomee, who I was already familiar with as Iktomi thanks to a TV mini-series about Native American folklore called Dreamkeeper that I saw when I was younger (which is why every time Mr. Eastman talks of Unktomee, I picture him as Gary Farmer with sunglasses :P). I also liked The Beloved of the Sun and The Runaways which was surprisingly like the Scottish folktale of Nix, Nought, Nothing I remember reading as a child. I love how the distinction between man and animal is often blurred in these stories.
I liked the depictions of Sioux life, the importance of the story-teller described side-by-side with the stories themselves, with their delightful characters and the little one line "moral of the story" at the end of each was a nostalgic reminder of all the stories I read as a kid.(less)
I really liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell so when I found out that Susanna Clarke has a collection of stories set in the same alternate Britain,...moreI really liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell so when I found out that Susanna Clarke has a collection of stories set in the same alternate Britain, I was curious to see whether the magic would work the second time round. I think it does.
The titular story is a good mix of feminism and magic and is the one most directly connected to the novel. I do wish it had been longer though. On Lickerish Hill is a delightful retelling of Rumpelstiltskin: familiar and fun (especially with Miranda's idiosyncratic descriptions of everyone and everything and the lovely quaint language) yet strangely creepy. The fairytale nature of the stories extends to Mrs. Mabb which as the title suggests involves fairies but also a good dose of Austen-style wit: "... he smiled at Venetia as if inviting her to fall in love with him on the spot.". I liked the familiar footnotes and tidbits of information on fairies in Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby but the story itself dragged a little. I did love the bit about Tom's social visit to the trees though. My favourite story in the book was Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower. It had a likable and interesting protagonist and I liked the analogies between being a fairy and being a racial "outsider".
I loved Charles Vess' illustrations: they were magical without being too infantile and some of them were powerfully atmospheric such as the ones in The Ladies of Grace Adieu which depicts the ladies meeting Strange and the forest creatures in On Lickerish Hill.
Ms. Clarke has proved again that it is possible to write an intelligent yet absorbingly readable book and I can't wait for her next work.(less)
Only Kurt Vonnegut can write a book about not writing a book and get away with it. Almost.
Timequake is basically an essay on time, on destruction and...moreOnly Kurt Vonnegut can write a book about not writing a book and get away with it. Almost.
Timequake is basically an essay on time, on destruction and on free will thrown in together with a loose tale about a timequake that sends everyone back ten years, Kilgore Trout storylettes and plenty of trademark Vonnegut quotable quotes ("... AIDS and new strains of syph and clap and the blueballs were making the rounds like Avon ladies run amok.")
I found the theme of free will interesting. Vonnegut compares World War II to a timequake: he describes his time as a soldier as a suspension of freewill. How many of us are living in a timequake even now? Do we really make decisions because we want to? It seems that giving in to your desires is the easiest thing in the world, but I've discovered that it's much easier to do what you think you "should" than to do what you love.
The little Trout stories sprinkled through are always interesting to read, as is the fact that Vonnegut pegs Trout's death down to the age of 84; Vonnegut, bless his soul, died at 84. So it goes. On the other hand, this book feels essentially incomplete: the characters, the plots never come into their own. At times, it feels downright lazy.
So, why did I like this book? Because it's honest, unpretentious and direct. In that Vonnegut always reminds me of Mark Twain and through Twain he presents his other theme. Twain said, "I have never wanted any released friend of mine restored to life since I reached manhood." Vonnegut says, "For practically everybody, the end of the world can’t come soon enough." Is this the reason why we have wars, why we simply choose to wipe out entire races? That we are, at the heart of it all, ashamed to live? (less)
It was the setting that drew me to this novel, but no matter how beautiful Stef Penney's depiction of the frozen wilderness of 19th century Canada, it...moreIt was the setting that drew me to this novel, but no matter how beautiful Stef Penney's depiction of the frozen wilderness of 19th century Canada, it couldn't salvage the book.
From the beginning, this book read like the middling novelization of a possibly interesting movie. I found out later that the author is a scriptwriter so that might have something to do with it. The problem is basically indifferent writing and incomplete characters. The protagonist, Mrs. Ross could have been interesting but I just couldn't see her at all. Her narrations in first-person couldn't merge very well with the rest of the book, in third person. There were far too many storylines fighting to be heard within the book and since they had more or less bland characters, you can't really get involved with any of them. The subplot with Line and the one with Francis and Jammet could have been done away with, or at least written better. Randomly inserting token homosexual characters is very tiresome. Is it so difficult to create a character who's both gay and well-thought out? Unfortunately Penney isn't alone in this.
The Native American characters are equally uni-dimensional; you're just repeatedly told of the "half-breeds" and how alien and savage they are without attempting to give them real personalities. Kahon'wes had promise but he barely saunters into the story, and as little other than an alcoholic. Alcoholism was and is a serious concern in Indian communities, but Penney handles it clumsily - in her story alcohol seems to only induce Indians into making an Olympic sport out of knifing white settlers. Perhaps the author had good intentions but they just don't translate well into writing. I don't know if the author wanted to make Parker "mysterious" but the attempt has instead resulted in a potentially interesting character becoming yet another bland element in the story. Who is Parker? What moves him? What does he fear and what does he like? You get nothing. The ending was just plain lazy, as if the author couldn't wait to be done with the book and just added something vaguely philosophical to wrap it up.
All in all, this would have been a better movie than a book. At least the nature scenes would be good.(less)
I wouldn't have read this book if it weren't for the constant Goodreads Book Club ads. Once I did, though, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that...moreI wouldn't have read this book if it weren't for the constant Goodreads Book Club ads. Once I did, though, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it did have some of those elements that interest me after all. I love reading about time: it's the only true constant in human lives. So, I was looking forward to see how Jennifer Egan expands on the basic theme of this book: "Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?".
I liked the structure of the novel, the loosely interconnected stories. It was interesting to discover minor characters tucked away as protagonists in later pages, to see their journeys in the future and past. Egan's writing is sometimes quiet and beautiful: "... What moved Ted, mashed some delicate glassware in his chest", sometimes quick and witty. I am somewhat undecided about the infamous PowerPoint chapter. I like the concept and the title, Famous Rock and Roll Pauses reminded me of something Debussy once said that I love, about music being the silence between the sounds. Still, the writing was often self-conscious and pretentious (a grown woman, not a 12 year old is more likely to use the words "primordially cute"?) and this is one of the reasons that the book couldn't enchant me despite it's subject.
This book seemed like a more sophisticated version of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife in a lot of ways. Both are about time and both have an interesting approach ruined by unlikable characters and pretentious writing (although there's less name-dropping in Egan's book). Sasha is just not believable: when teenage girls run away to become groupies, more often than not, they are more likely to end up without a kidney somewhere than travel around Europe and Asia. On a side note, I don't understand the recent trend I've noted in a number of books, of quirky-but-troubled-pale-redhead heroines. These writers (it may be a coincidence but they're almost always female) seem to use physical appearance as a shortcut to character development, instead of you know, actually spending time giving a character depth and personality. Frankly, the offbeat redhead is as tired a cliché as the dumb blonde and the sensible brunette. As for the other characters, Jules is interesting until you have to plough through the tiresome rant that is his escapade with Kitty Jackson. Lou is never anything more than an old lech. To be fair to Egan, she does have some sympathetic characters, like Scotty, La Doll or even Bosco.
The tone is often depressing, as looking back on the passage of time is and Egan reminds the reader constantly of what time can do: "... such universal, defining symbols made meaningless by nothing more than time". However, there is also redemption. Egan doesn't forget the circular nature of time. Time taketh away, and time giveth.(less)
I didn't actively dislike this book but I was rather disappointed. It is funny in bits but they are only small bits.
Professor Moritz-Maria von Igelfe...moreI didn't actively dislike this book but I was rather disappointed. It is funny in bits but they are only small bits.
Professor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld tackles the dirty business of paper pilfering professors, dental pain, Italian xenophobes, Irish swear words, murderous prison governors and the proper way to address a colleague's dog while travelling about in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, India and Ireland. Most of the humour seems to come from the fact that he's German and academic which is just as flimsy as it sounds. However, I did like von Igelfeld's musing on the rapid loss of language: "Where previously there might have been four adjectives to describe a favoured hill, or the scent of new-mown hay, or the action of threading the warp of a loom, now there would only be one, or none. And as we lost the words, von Igelfeld thought, we lost the texture of the world that went with them." But then, it's not comic.
On a side note, I was rather irritated with Mr. Smith's penchant for making up Indian names. Paliwalar Patel from the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is nothing compared to the travesty that is "Janiwandillannah Krishnamurti Singh". Leaving aside the fact that it's a very bizarre and unlikely name, the Asian equivalent of calling someone Jingleheimer François McGillicuddy, it worries me because all this while I have loved the Setswana names in the detective agency series. What if someone from Botswana is as bewildered by Phuti Radiphuti or Mr. J.L.B Matekoni as I am by Rasi Henderson Paliwalar (seriously, where are these names coming from???) or Mr. Majipondi? Surely it can't be difficult to patch together a believable name: there's always Google. Also, how hard is it to look up the correct spelling of Chandigarh? And it's not just the Indian names that are massacred here: I don't think many Germans are called von Igelfeld either.
I don't know if I'll be reading the two other books in the series. Herren von Igelfeld, Unterholzer und Prinzel are just not funny enough to merit a trawl through the murky waters of academia.