It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is the most awesome novel which I have read about British India. The story is gripping: the languageIt would not be an exaggeration to say that this is the most awesome novel which I have read about British India. The story is gripping: the language poetic ("the indigo dreams of flowers fallen asleep", to recall a phrase which lingers in the memory): and the characterisation near flawless. Even after more than twenty years (I think it's nearer twenty-five), I can recall the some scenes as if I had read the novel yesterday.
Just look at how Scott starts the novel off:
Imagine, then, a flat landscape, dark for the moment, but even so conveying to a girl running in the still deeper shadow cast by the wall of the Bibighar Gardens an idea of immensity, of distance, such as years before Miss Crane had been conscious of, standing where a lane ended and cultivation began...
Like To Kill a Mockingbird and One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first paragraph hooks you with the whole story encapsulated in it. Then when the novelist goes on to say "this is the story of a rape...", you are lost for good.
It is 1942, and Gandhi has delivered the ultimatum to the British - "Quit India!" - in his quietly arrogant way. Everywhere, the winds of change are felt, as the worm is finally turning. In this chaotic situation, a British woman is raped by Indians-and all hell breaks loose. “The Bibighar Incident”, as it comes to be known, grows into a metaphor: the beginning of the end of the British Raj.
Paul Scott’s extraordinary achievement is to encapsulate this huge canvas into the private lives of a few misfits. Daphne Manners, large boned and clumsy, with none of the charms of the English girl: Hari Kumar (or Harry Coomer, as he likes to call himself), Indian on the outside and English on the inside: and Merrick, the policeman, acutely conscious of his low social standing in British society. This triangle is unlike any other seen in literature, as love and hate in equal measure bind these people together, pulling them into the inevitable vortex at the Bibighar gardens.
The novel unfolds through the perspectives of different characters, often not central to the story. It gives a jagged, kaleidoscopic feel to the narrative which is perfectly in keeping with India. And as the mystery of what happened at Bibighar is revealed, we seem to hear the bells start to ring the death knell of the British Empire.
At the outset... the 5 stars are entirely subjective. I love maths, I love playing mathematical games, I love philosophising about maths. So this bookAt the outset... the 5 stars are entirely subjective. I love maths, I love playing mathematical games, I love philosophising about maths. So this book is perfect for me. But if maths is not your cup of tea, you may not enjoy it as much as I did.
I first read about this book in one of Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" anthologies, and was enthralled by the concept. (In fact, he discusses two books: Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot and An Episode of Flatland by Charles Hinton written with the same premise. He says Hinton's book is better, and I have managed to locate an online version recently, but have not had time to read it so far.)
We live in a world of three dimensions. It is easy for us to deal with one dimension (the line), two dimensions (the plane) and three dimensions (space). But can we conceptualise a fourth dimension? It is well-nigh impossible, for our whole being is tied up on this three-dimensional paradigm.
Abbot's fictional world is two-dimensional. The characters move about on a flat landscape. They cannot imagine a third dimension. The narrator of the story, A. Square, is living the relatively comfortable life of a country gent until he is snatched up into "Spaceland" by a sphere, a three-dimensional being. He has a view of his land from a three-dimensional perspective, and Square is never the same again. He comes back to preach the concept of Space to his fellow countrymen and is promptly incarcerated in an asylum as a lunatic.
There is no story in this short novella: it is more of a mathematical exploration and social commentary. The first part uses the Flatland society to poke fun at Victorian norms, and is quite entertaining. The inhabitants of Flatland are all geometrical figures: social pedigree is conferred by the number of sides one has, the lowliest being the isoceles triangles (the soldiers) and the highest being the cirles (the priests). (The circle is a special instance of a polygon with an infinite number of sides.) The male children of a member of one class are usually born with one more side than the parent, so social climbing is possible. However, the women are all single lines: they can't aspire to be anything other than "women"! There are also irregular polygons, who are social misfits.
Abbot explains at length the geography and history of his society. The "Chromatic Revolution" where an attempt to overthrow the established order by a scheming "irregular" is scuttled by a clever circle, through an inspiring speech in parliament worthy of Mark Antony, is especially hilarious.
In the second part, the story submerges itself in the philosophy of maths. The protagonist has a vision of "Lineland", a world of a single dimension: he tries to explain Flatland to the King of that realm, but with little success. Then, our hero has a visit from a Sphere, an inhabitant of "Spaceland", and he faces the same problem in comprehending the third dimension as the king of Lineland had in comprehending the second (later, the Sphere demonstrates the same shortsight when Square moots the possibility of a fourth dimension).
Square is transported into Spaceland by Sphere, and suddenly he can see Flatland from the outside: including the inside of the houses and the intestines of the inhabitants, all at the same time! He also comprehends that the magical ability of a Spaceland denizen to move in and out of Flatland wherever he/ she wishes is nothing but a question of simple three-dimensional geometry. Square also is witness to a parliarmentary meeting where the Sphere makes a surprise appearance, to try to convince the rulers of Flatland about the existence of space, but to no avail. The preaching of space is a state crime in Flatland, with the penalty of either death or life in confinement(according to the social status of the individual)- the ultimate fate of the narrator of the story.
Yet even though he is destined to spend his remaining life in an asylum, Square is not willing to let go of his vision of Space. Once seen, he is transformed for life.
Abbot, a teacher and theologician, uses his knowledge of philosophy and mathematics not only to create a satire, but also to raise big questions about the limitations of perception in general. It is an extremely enjoyable read, and the issues it raises will stay with you even after you finish it.
Since it is available online free from Gutenberg, I suggest everyone to give it a try....more
Every once in a while, I stop to think about the neglected characters in various novels who exist only as plot devices. What are their stories? If youEvery once in a while, I stop to think about the neglected characters in various novels who exist only as plot devices. What are their stories? If you saw the novel through their eyes, what would it be like?
Therefore, ever since I heard the premise of Jean Rhys's novel, I was eager to read it. Bertha, Mr. Rochester's first wife, must have had a life other than as the "madwoman in the attic". I do not know if Charlotte Bronte ever thought about it, but Ms. Rhys obviously did, and this compellingly readable novel is the product.
The language is beautifully evocative. I could see the West Indies, even though I have never been there. I could see, hear and smell the tropical countryside (very much like my homeland), at once breathtakingly beautiful, compellingly seductive and strangely frightening-like Antoinette. Especially to the eyes of an Englishman whose green meadows and rolling fields hold no secrets.
Yes, the countryside is beautiful... but dangerous, since you can get lost in it. It may suddenly cloud over and start to rain, and you may find yourself in the burnt-out ruins of a country house populated only by ghosts of dead slaves and murdered slave-owners.
The characterisation is perfect. Rhys draws each character, including the minor ones, with a few deft brush strokes. Rochester, for all his faults, comes across as sympathetic, a victim of his times and society: the "evils" he does are part of his social makeup. And Antoinette is a masterpiece-inseparable from the landscape she inhabits. As we progress through the novel and she slips more and more into madness, the narrative also matches her mental state. In fact, the third part is downright creepy.
However, I am still plagued by a niggling doubt... would this novel be effective for someone totally ignorant of Jane Eyre?
Oh well...maybe the question is irrelevant....more
**spoiler alert** Room by Emma Donoghue is an extraordinary book. It is not literary, despite the Booker nomination: the first half reads like a thril**spoiler alert** Room by Emma Donoghue is an extraordinary book. It is not literary, despite the Booker nomination: the first half reads like a thriller of the darker variety and the second half like a tear-jerker. The whole story seems contrived, and one part (the escape of Jack from the Room) stretches credibility almost to the point of breaking. Yet, the novel is strangely compelling and once taken up, hard to put down. Why?
I believe this is because of the psychological and mythical depth of the narrative. The author herself has said two things prompted her to write this novel. One, the extraordinarily limited world of a person forced to stay in close confinement for an extended period of time: the second, the bond between the child and the mother, especially in the early oral stages where they are scarcely two entities. Let us examine each in turn.
Jack's Ma (she is never named in the novel: she exists only as the Mother) has been confined in a soundproof, eleven feet-by-eleven feet shed in his backyard by a psychopath (known only as Old Nick) for seven years. She has been abducted by him and kept there as his sex slave since she was nineteen: Jack has been born in captivity, her second child by Nick (the first had been a stillbirth). Jack has never been outside the shed. He calls it Room, and it is all the world to him: a living, breathing entity. What is seen on the TV is a myth, and all the people inhabiting that world are unreal. The only other real (or semi-real) entity is Old Nick, whom Jack has never seen, as his mother hides him in the wardrobe as Nick comes for his nightly visit. Nick is known to Jack only through the creaks of the bed as he rapes his mother.
Jack's world is claustrophobic, but he does not know it, as it is the only world he has known for the five years of his life. For him, the existence is idyllic, a composite entity composed of only he and his Ma. All the toys, books and collages made from junk by his mother are living entities for Jack. We see Room only through his eyes: Emma Donoghue has done a fantastic job with the kid's POV. He is very advanced in certain ways but extremely juvenile in other. His language is a curious mixture of portmanteau words, grammar mistakes, and long phrases picked up from TV. It is the brilliance of the author which makes us feel the claustrophobia of the atmosphere for Jack's mother even when he himself revels in it.
Coming to the curious relationship between Jack and Ma, the Oedipal suggestions are very evident. Ma still breast-feeds Jack, even though he is five (it is called "having some" - I found that terminology vaguely vulgar, therefore effective): his penis always "stands up" in the morning. This is the "mythical drama played out in every nursery", as Joseph Campbell said: the urge of the son to kill the father and marry the mother - and the father here deserves very much to be killed.
Jack is the hero of all the fairy tales his mother tells him, like the eponymous hero of most English fairy tales. His birth in captivity, escape and rescue of his mother also parallels the story of many a Godchild (Krishna comes to mind immediately). It is highly significant that Jack prays to the Baby Jesus, and also that the villain is known as "Old Nick" - the name of the Devil.
The book is split in two: the first part in Room, and the second out of it (or "Outside" as Jack calls it). The author's aim in structuring the narrative thus is evident; to show that Jack and Ma have become a single entity almost, impossible to separate. In fact, Room has travelled with them. The invisible prison continues to suffocate Ma to such an unbearable stage that she tries to commit suicide.
Ultimately, Jack is partially rehabilitated when he goes back to the Room and says goodbye to it. We feel that finally there is a ray of hope. However, even with that upbeat ending, one has to say that the novel sort of loses steam in the second half.
Still I will give this novel four stars for the daring concept and the craft of keeping the child narrator's voice genuine through 400 pages (no mean achievement): also for the very real claustrophobia of Room and the mythical and psychological dimensions. The deduction of one star is for the rather insipid second half and the totally unbelievable escape.
I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me... She showed me her room, isn't it good, Norwegian wood?
She asked me to stay and she told me to sI once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me... She showed me her room, isn't it good, Norwegian wood?
She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere, So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair.
I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine We talked until two and then she said, "It's time for bed"
She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh. I told her I didn't and crawled off to sleep in the bath
And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown So I lit a fire, isn't it good, Norwegian wood.
- The Beatles
Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood is a love story: on author’s own confession, “a straight, simple story” quite unlike the type of fiction he is well known for. Murakami claims the novel was a challenge to him, a test of his capability to write a “straight” story; many of his fans see it as a betrayal of what his works had stood for until then. Not having read any of Murakami’s works so far, I had the advantage of approaching it with an unprejudiced mind. And I found that while the story was straight, it was anything but simple.
The novel is one bunch of impressions. The prose is sensual, even voluptuous: descriptions of landscapes and weather are done in long and loving detail. There is very little exploration of inner mental states, other than as broad description of emotions, even though we are listening to only one voice throughout the book. It is rather like stream of consciousness turned outward.
I have been trying to do a traditional review of this book for quite some time now, but have been finding it impossible. So I will give you my impressions of reading the book.
Reading Norwegian Wood (for me) is like sitting on the porch at twilight during a rare break in the rains during the monsoon, watching the golden rays of the dying sun light up the rain-drenched earth, and filling your lungs with the smell of the rain.
Reading Norwegian Wood is like waking up on a winter morning, opening the window and getting hit in the face by an invigorating blast of icy East Wind.
Reading Norwegian Wood is like staying up late, listening to the harmonious cacophony of drums at our local temple festival, inhaling the aroma of the burning lamp wicks and incense.
I loved this novel not so much for its gothic darkness, but for the questions it raised. It seems chillingly plausible that any cruelty, carried on loI loved this novel not so much for its gothic darkness, but for the questions it raised. It seems chillingly plausible that any cruelty, carried on long enough, will be accepted as the norm by humanity-especially if it benefits the majority (like providing an endless supply of organs). We manage this by dehumanising the victims. India's untouchables and America's slaves are just two of the examples. Even when we, as "enlightened" human beings, look back in disgust at such historical injustices, shouldn't we ask ourselves the question: "Am I any different?" I constantly do, and am frightened by the answer sometimes...
The writing of the novel is weak compared to "Remains of the Day", and the main plot device (art and literature providing evidence for the "soul") is rather trite, but Ishiguro must be congratulated in creating a future which is a dystopia only from the main protagonists' point of view, and drawing us into the same and making us feel the horror. The novel is science fiction in a sense, and gothic in another, but I would hesitate to include it under either category because ultimately it addresses the ephemeral nature of human existence from the viewpoint of a doomed character, and thus grows beyond any genre categorisation.
I would recommend it wholeheartedly to any lover of serious literature....more