The five stories in Love and Longing in Bombay are connected in a few ways: they're all told through the same character, to the narrator, at varying dThe five stories in Love and Longing in Bombay are connected in a few ways: they're all told through the same character, to the narrator, at varying degrees of distance; they're all really about Bombay (except, perhaps, "Shanti," the final story); they're all about some kind of love; they're all really, really about storytelling. I liked that Chandra uses the stories to explore a variety of genres, linking the stories through framing device and theme while exploring other areas in each individual work.
Some of them, of course!, worked better for me than others. I liked "Shakti," best: a sort of Edith-Wharton-in-Mumbai story, sharply observed, but not without compassion. "Artha," about a Muslim programmer trying to balance a search for his missing boyfriend with major problems at work, was my other favorite. "Shanti" expresses the largest themes of the collection through a quasi-filmi love story, and is moving and sweet and convincing.
"Dharma," the ghost story, seemed a little obvious in its conclusion. "Kama," the mystery, didn't do much for me. I know it introduces a character who Chandra uses again in Sacred Games, and I can see why he would be compelling, but the story wasn't quite enough. Overall, though, I thought this was an interesting and thought-provoking collection, and I liked the questions it raised....more
So, I didn't like Beijing Coma much at all. Part of the reason, I'm sure, was the translation. I've no idea how faithful it was to Ma Jian's style, orSo, I didn't like Beijing Coma much at all. Part of the reason, I'm sure, was the translation. I've no idea how faithful it was to Ma Jian's style, or tone, or anything, but it often read like something that had been only partially translated into idiomatic English. There was a strange mix of English-language slang, and often I think a phrase closer to the original Chinese idiom would have been a better choice. But then there are other times where things that I suspect were puns popped up, and they didn't make any sense.
However, by far the greatest problems I had with the novel originated with Ma Jian and not his translator. For example, I rarely spend most of a book hoping the narrator will die. But honestly, I would have volunteered to put arsenic in Dai Wei's feeding tube myself. He's an extremely irritating character - completely self-absorbed and sex-obsessed - and ultimately not very interesting. The story he tells is interesting, although the way it is presented makes it feel more like medicine than anything else. It reminds me a bit of Ten Days That Shook the World in this medicinal-feeling . . . and for other reasons.
What the book really needed was a harsh editor. It's much, much, much too long and repetitive. I've enjoyed long books - A Suitable Boy? I'm in love with ASB! - and long books about idealistic revolutions - A Place of Greater Safety? Sign me up - but there's no compelling reason for it to drag on like it does. Switching back and forth between Dai Wei's coma-existence after Tiananmen and the pre-coma story leading up to the protests makes the book drag even more. Inevitably one storyline seems more interesting than the other, and the book as a whole suffers. There's a third thread of italicized reflections that don't really work either, but at least that part is brief.
Anyway, this was not a book I enjoyed at all....more
I had a fiendishly difficult time with this book, which I found odd because Things Fall Apart was like reading water, and even A Man of the People wasI had a fiendishly difficult time with this book, which I found odd because Things Fall Apart was like reading water, and even A Man of the People was engaging and straightforward. But although I loved what Achebe did in Arrow of God, I had a really hard time actually reading the damn thing. I'm pretty sure that the fault was with me - I don't know enough about the Igbo, I find proverbs irritating, my brain is lately in other places - because I could sense some of the power of the novel, but was ultimately unable to experience it. It was like reading a book through a shop window. Siiiigh....more
1. Um, I TOTALLY LOVED THIS BOOK. It's funny in a very self-aware way, with a beautifully convincing and completely charming love story. Seriously, th1. Um, I TOTALLY LOVED THIS BOOK. It's funny in a very self-aware way, with a beautifully convincing and completely charming love story. Seriously, the Anthea/Hugo love story is amazing. I was completely invested in it, cheering them on and cooing over them. The last time that happened (which I guess wasn't too long ago, whatever) was in the movie Veer-Zaara. That's right: this romance is on par with a Sufi-inspired plea for reuniting India and Pakistan. (Although, I can't deny that The Unknown Ajax would probably have been improved by the presence of Amitabh Bachchan and some songs. Maybe someday. Rani Mukherjee can play Aunt Aurelia.)
2. It's actually kind of a mystery+romance+comedy of manners, and I think the mystery aspect works really well. Surprisingly well, maybe, because I've heard from a couple people that Heyer's mysteries kind of suck. But maybe it works here because the mystery is sidelined in favor of character development, aka, falling in love.
3. Part of the humor depends on Heyer skewering the gentry, which is kind of unusual for her (and it doesn't quite work, but it fails in ways that make it more interesting from an analytical/literary criticism standpoint, so I don't mind. Plus, it's so charming. Did I mention how charming it is? It's quite charming.). Most obviously, this happens with Hugo, but the book actually opens with a passage from the perspective of one of the footmen in the Daracott household. It continues slightly less obviously with some more tertiary characters (law enforcement) and the ongoing what-will-happen-to-Richmond plot.
4. I loved Anthea, although I've learned to be wary of heroines described as "spirited" because that is an overused word . . . at least in Regency romances, it is. But she manages to carry that characterization off, and with style. Her interaction with Hugo is joyful, and done with a very light touch....more
Although I enjoyed The Masqueraders, it's not nearly as successful as The Unknown Ajax, partly because people actually die (which ruins the fantasy) aAlthough I enjoyed The Masqueraders, it's not nearly as successful as The Unknown Ajax, partly because people actually die (which ruins the fantasy) and partly because the twins' father is insufferable. STFU, Chessmaster. The primary romance is excellent, but the second doesn't work as well....more
1. There are three things you should know about this book before you start it: 1a. IT IS BRILLIANT. 1b. EVERYONE IN IT IS EXTREMELY FUCKED UP. 1c. It's g1. There are three things you should know about this book before you start it: 1a. IT IS BRILLIANT. 1b. EVERYONE IN IT IS EXTREMELY FUCKED UP. 1c. It's gonna wear you out.
2. As Meat Loves Salt is a dark, brutal, intelligent, and moving novel. If you could write Caravaggio down, it would be this book. (Interestingly, it has a lot in common with Jarman's movie too - and for reasons other than obsessive erotic fixations with beautiful blond men!) It is beautiful and frightening - terrifying, in some places - but captivating and startlingly erotic.
3. By far the most remarkable thing about the book is the protagonist, Jacob Cullen. Other people have called him a sociopath, and while I agree that he'd probably benefit from some modern medication, his problems stem not from his lack of a conscience but from his susceptibility to anger. He's a monster, but he's far from the only monster in As Meat Loves Salt. (Also, he has no personal charm. His life is not smooth, and he's not really an opportunist - I mean, okay, if we want to talk about fictional characters that might be sociopaths, Scarlett O'Hara is probably much closer to that profile. But Jacob Cullen is in thrall to his own wrath - he's a sinner, a criminal, and a violent man, which is plenty, honestly.) His violence manifests on a different scale than that of the men around him; as we see in the passages about the New Model Army, he disdains the brutality of the seventeenth century soldier, which creates a fair amount of irony. But actually, this makes him more frightening, because Cullen's violence is so wrapped up in how he thinks of love. He kills - and rapes - to defend what he thinks of as his. His deep insecurity makes him easy to rouse to anger, but it makes his love fierce and compelling (and completely fucked up, which bears repeating). However, the way McCann immerses us in the violence, including the violence Jacob enacts, creates a very attractive argument against passion . . . or at least against the particularly twisted, Heathcliffe-like passion exhibited here.
4. I'm rarely absorbed so much by a book - I think it actually sped up my metabolism, so, uh, yeah - and I was definitely overstimulated by this one. It's an easy book to fall into, which is part of why it's so disturbing. But I like it when books freak you out, a little. Or a lot. This one freaked me out a lot, but in ways that made me want to draw ENORMOUS HEARTS ON IT.
5. The love story - I don't have any hesitation calling it that, although it goes veryveryveryvery wrong by the end - is excellent. It's convincing and however many problems you have with Jacob you still want it to work. Oh, and actually the sex is pretty delicious too, and it's not described with flowery phrases or anything terrible (thank god).
6. Other things As Meat Loves Salt reminded me of: Giovanni's Room (it's kind of a facile comparison . . . unless you've read them both), A Suitable Boy (anti-passion, complicated historical/political/social themes), La haine (violence). There are probably others I'm too mentally exhausted to think of right now.
ETA October 31, 2012: I thought rereading this would be easier than the first time, because I thought if I knew what happened it would be easier to deal with it.
I was wrong.
A. W. Eaton has an article on rough heroes (I have a number of problems with the article but that's irrelevant), and I . . . really wonder if she's read this book. ...more
I don't know if I've ever read a book so infuriating and unsatisfying. (That's a lie: I definitely have, but I can't remember what it is right now.) EI don't know if I've ever read a book so infuriating and unsatisfying. (That's a lie: I definitely have, but I can't remember what it is right now.) Even The God of Small Things, of which I was strongly reminded while reading Desai's novel, had some sort of fulfillment.
Still, when a book stymies me I tend to admire it, since it takes guts to ignore narrative conventions. I don't mean minor conventions like the unities or quotation marks, but major ones like the emotional journeys on which we expect a work to take us.
This is a coming of age novel in all kinds of ways. There's the traditional coming of age, undertaken and endured by the young people, Sai and Biju. And then the grappling with the modern world of the two sisters in late middle age, Lola and Noni. Held up by Gorkha nationalists hoping for contraband (or, I guess, something that can be turned to contraband) and called to account for some library books, Lola explains
"I always said," she turned to the others [her friends] in a frivolous fashion, "that I would save Trollope for my dotage; I knew it would be a perfect slow indulgence when I had nothing much to do and, well, here I am. Old-fashioned books is what I like. Not the new kind of thing, no beginning, no middle, no end, just a thread of . . . free-floating plasma . . . "English writer," she told the guard.
Now, I'm inclined to be over-generous to any self-aware piece of art (oh, Community!) so naturally I loved this part, Desai's wink at the audience. Because The Inheritance of Loss is a bit of postmodern plasma, indeed; around page 150 I was starting to wonder if the book would be any actual plot. (There is, but it's toward the end.) Not because I have any particular bias against books without plot (if you do, though, let's be Vampire Diaries buddies, because that show has more plot than it knows what to do with and not enough people watch it) but because I like to know what kind of book I'm reading in order to think about it more clearly. I mean: you don't downgrade a gymnast on the vault over the absence of a floor routine.
But I also love that part because it's such a great illustration of the ethnic and class tensions at work throughout the novel. Indian/British, Hindi/Parsi, Bengali/Gorkha, ICS/the help. Actually, the town in Uttar Pradesh is made up of all kinds of bits and pieces of ethnic groups: Tibetans, a [gay] Swiss priest, Nepalis and Gorkhas, Gujaratis, Hindi-Parsi girls educated at a Catholic convent . . . no one really belongs. (The same is true, naturally, of New York.)
I also really liked the relationship between Sai and Gyan, although only once it had soured.
Part of me wishes this had been a short story, though. It was a little bit baggy, and I think in some ways it could have been more effective as a short story.
Note: this book employs Chekhov's Dog, a term I've just made up. I have a hard time reading about animals in peril because x, y, z. Forewarned is forearmed....more
Well, this was adorable. A++, would gladly read in lieu of John Locke again (sorry, John Locke). I haven't read a romance novel in a while. I forgot hWell, this was adorable. A++, would gladly read in lieu of John Locke again (sorry, John Locke). I haven't read a romance novel in a while. I forgot how fun they could be.
In the author's note, Kinsale says she thinks of this genre as "hedgehog humor" and I think that is an apt description. The pleasure in this book comes from a healthy dose of humor in the "will they or won't they (no, obviously they will, are you crazy)" scenario and lovable characters. The plot is a lot ridiculous, but that's okay - it's supposed to be that way, and both Callie and Trev are fairly down to earth so there's a nice balance here. I appreciated the way running inner monologues were incorporated into the dialogue-less passages. I don't know how to describe it without sounding annoying, and it isn't annoying, it's actually a source of great charm and wit . . . it's not exactly close third person, but a bit like close third person (I think? I might be getting my terms mixed up).
There's a lot to enjoy in this book! I don't know that it surprises you, and some of the Misunderstandings are a little bit forced, but it is does a really good job at convincing you of the sincerity and depth of emotion between the heroine and hero, which is sort of the #1 priority for a romance novel, right? Lots of fun all around. I definitely had a stupid smile on my face a lot of the time....more
Well - I don't quite know what I think about The Bridge of the Golden Horn. It reminds me a bit of this French movie, La faute à Fidel!, which is a chWell - I don't quite know what I think about The Bridge of the Golden Horn. It reminds me a bit of this French movie, La faute à Fidel!, which is a charming movie about a very young girl in the 1970s. This book has some of the same exuberance and high-spirits, although I think it aims for a more universalist feeling (I might be too easily fooled by "nameless protagonists"). There's an underlayer of violence and grit that this book has which, I think, the movie lacks.
The style, at least in translation, is abrupt and stream-of-consciousy. I don't know it it really worked for me - I think it alienated me more from the heroine than something a little smoother in style and tone might have done, although as a technique I found it valuable. Also, I tend to prefer reflective characters and there don't seem to be any in this book, only obsessed ones.
But I still found it intriguing - perhaps if I'd read it in one sitting, it seems like the kind of book that would reward that kind of momentum, I would have less complicated feelings about it....more
Is this a three or a four star book? That's a ridiculous question - I don't think that much of star ratings, except as a kind of mnemonic device (andIs this a three or a four star book? That's a ridiculous question - I don't think that much of star ratings, except as a kind of mnemonic device (and not even a particularly good one) - and yet I'm trying to figure out what I think about the book, and I'm sort of torn. Selvadurai's prose doesn't impress me particularly, in fact I don't think very highly of it at all and it was a significant barrier to my appreciation, but I think ultimately Cinnamon Gardens talked me into liking it. Liking the book, I mean - I'll probably never really like the way Selvadurai writes.
Although actually, I think that ultimately the over-simplified way Selvaudrai writes works, eventually, to the novel's benefit. You get to think about the nuances of the characterization instead of the aesthetic experience - there isn't much of an aesthetic experience here, except inasmuch as all works of art provide them, and I don't want to discount that - so you have to deal with the characters as people. And there's a lot of them to deal with!...more
Okay, here is the thing: Swimming in the Monsoon Sea is probably a very good look into the mind of a teenager with a Tragic Past on the verge of a nerOkay, here is the thing: Swimming in the Monsoon Sea is probably a very good look into the mind of a teenager with a Tragic Past on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Um, I mean, a sexual awakening, whatever - but that doesn't always make it very interesting. I'm not far off from teenagehood myself, and now I'm wondering what prevented me from killing all the boys I was growing up with.
I'm not totally clear on the rules of YA, so although I know this fits, I'm not sure if it is "good YA" or just YA, you know? It seemed heavy handed (especially with the symbolism and the allegory, seriously!). Actually, it seemed pretty heavy in general, and I don't mean deep or complicated! I mean like a heavy weight. But I do want to check out Selvadurai's other books, especially Cinnamon Gardens: A Novel....more
1. The parts of The Sorrow of War that are about storytelling and PTSD (if it sounds like The Things They Carried, well, um, that's because it is like1. The parts of The Sorrow of War that are about storytelling and PTSD (if it sounds like The Things They Carried, well, um, that's because it is like The Things They Carried) are really excellent. They're moving and thought-provoking and insightful.
2. The parts about women, on the other hand, are the exact opposite of that. They actually ruin the book....more
If you are the kind of reader who likes to be invested in the characters, you probably should skip this book - it's not about caring. It seems to me tIf you are the kind of reader who likes to be invested in the characters, you probably should skip this book - it's not about caring. It seems to me that A Dead Man in Deptford is mostly an intellectual exercise, which is why 75% of it is composed of arguments about abstract ideas. The remaining 25% is Marlowe having sex, although the math's wrong because these two things sometimes overlap with each other. Also, 100% of it is about language. (This is most obvious in the great delight Burgess takes in mentioning all the ways you might spell Marlowe or . . . any other name. Of anyone else in the book.) If you are hoping for Shakespeare, you will be disappointed; if you are Elizabeth Bear, right now I'm laughing at you: scooped! And by a way better writer.
Also, it's pretty funny! And if you like reading books about smart assholes (my favorite genre), well, maybe you will enjoy it even though the characters don't matter....more
I don't think anyone could deny that Wide Sargasso Sea is a truly excellent book, and that it serves an important function in relation to aWell, okay.
I don't think anyone could deny that Wide Sargasso Sea is a truly excellent book, and that it serves an important function in relation to a canonical work. (It sort of annoys me that people now conflate Antoinette in WSS and Bertha in JE, though. I understand why that is so tempting, but it's an oversimplification. AND ALSO in the 19th century, keeping your crazy wife in an attic is preferable to institutionalizing her. I'm not saying it's IDEAL but it's definitely the lesser of two evils and Rochester is clearly racked by his guilt and complicity - in WSS too, although there maybe it's better to say "Rochester" is racked by his complicity, guilt, and the betrayals by his family, and the realization that his upbringing just hasn't prepared him for this.)
There's a temptation to read WSS as a way of explaining some parts of JE, maybe: of sketching in some parts on a map, but actually I'm not sure that the book really does this. I'm not sure Rhys tells us anything we don't already know from JE - for instance, there are cracks in the "Rochester"/Antoinette relationship, but we don't see what the breaking point is. They both seem to go crazy in different ways at the same time, and Rhys never clarifies why, really. She just shows us the things that make it worse - but we don't know what the point of no return was. I'm still not 100% certain how I feel about that decision, and it's why I've docked this a star, although usually my star ratings are less decisive than that!
Mostly, though, it's sad and beautiful and sort of difficult to read - difficult to be inside someone's head that much, when they're hurting so much. Both "Rochester" and Antoinette hurt a lot. If you're like me, you sometimes want to push people in pain together, because you want them to ~*heal*~ each other or whatever (this is my post-Enlightenment analytical tendency talking, sorrrrry) and that's not an option in WSS. They just hurt each other more. Sexual politics being what they are, Antoinette's going to be destroyed by her pain. OH AND ACTUALLY, I think there's an important essay waiting (I assume?) to be written about why Bertha and Jane are two sides of the same coin, and not in a persona/shadow way? WSS actually drives this home (their childhoods are the saaaame.) Someone has written my "Jane Eyre = Tam Lin" essay already, literary critics please get on this one too? Fanks.
Secondary reading: "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism", Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. That one Mansfield Park adaptation? Some of the descriptions of the Indies reminded me of the Kerala of The God of Small Things, a natural world full of menace; but then it is also the Kerala of the film Sancharram, dangerous and tricky but also a place of refuge. (The natural world, after all, doesn't care about us.)...more
I expected to like this story, and I think if I'd paid more attention to the people on the cover blurbs I would have known better. Any charm in the seI expected to like this story, and I think if I'd paid more attention to the people on the cover blurbs I would have known better. Any charm in the setting or spark in the characterization was quickly overcome by the utterly graceless writing. Very disappointing....more
The Game of Kings sounds like a book I should like: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles," asThe Game of Kings sounds like a book I should like: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles," as they say (or, anyway, at least some of those things - replace giants with gypsies, and so on). It wears its erudition on its sleeve. The main character is a charismatic mess (allegedly). It's funny, but in a sly way. It starts off in on one foot and ends up on the other.
But here's the thing: that bait and switch doesn't really work. First of all, it's transparently obvious that the switch has to happen in order for the book to even occur. Second of all, the plot is structured in such a way that, I think, what is supposed to be happening is a gradual unspooling such that you start to doubt more and more that everything is as it seems and then you finally get a big AH HAH!! moment. But although this sort of thing can be quite successful (An Instance of the Fingerpost, although in that case it's more OH NO) it doesn't work particularly well for TGoK because, I think, we know this is just the first book in the series. So what should be a neat, extremely satisfying storytelling trick ends up just being coy. And I don't think the plotting is that great, either - I'm not sure how much of this is because it's the first book, and so it has to plant the seeds now and harvest them later. Certainly a significant portion must be. But then there are some tertiary plots that resolve (at least apparently) in the novel and they are kind of red herrings. Red herrings can be very effective, but it's difficult to make them so - more often they are irritating.
I'll admit to never warming up to Lymond. I much preferred Richard. This preference is probably, despite my griping about the plot, at the root of my failure to connect with the book. If you find Lymond effective and charming and interesting, then the novel will succeed with you, and you'll read the next four or five - however many there are. I thought I would like Lymond - I like Errol Flynn, I like difficult heroes, I like witty fuck-ups - but I was wrong....more