I would have given it three stars but the experience of reading it was more than compensating for the open structure of the entire novel. I do believe...moreI would have given it three stars but the experience of reading it was more than compensating for the open structure of the entire novel. I do believe the novel was never intended to tell you a specific story. I'm no literary critic, so I'll shut up about that. (less)
I'm on the 250th page of this book. The rain outside is pounding on my window. Robert is talking about "stuckness." He's been talking about it for the...moreI'm on the 250th page of this book. The rain outside is pounding on my window. Robert is talking about "stuckness." He's been talking about it for the last three pages. He's in fact rambling. I'm stuck with him. But I'm not. In fact, what stops me from the book down? Nothing.
Quality, Robert said, is something we either "see" or we don't. I don't see it in this book. I put it down. I roll around and sleep. I tried.(less)
Is Steppenwolf an aesthetically pleasing word? Isn't it really an attractive looking set of letters? Does it not please you to look at it? I felt so....more
Is Steppenwolf an aesthetically pleasing word? Isn't it really an attractive looking set of letters? Does it not please you to look at it? I felt so. I didn't know anything about the book, a literary plebeian that I am. I was drawn by the name. The two p's are the immediately noticeable, whether due to an unconscious weight given to the stressed phonemes, or the repeated letters, I do not know. Immediately flanking the obvious p's are the e's. Just when the mind fears a satiation for symmetry, the 'wolf' sits astray, tipping the entire word over to one side.
What draws a reader into the book is the negative start of it, a pessimistic tone from a weary narrator. His tired and grating voice soothes the Steppenwolves of us. A familiar world, a world that draws us in into a narcissistic bubble. The book goes on like this until Harry acquires the Treatise on the Steppenwolf. Here starts the acid trip, a meta-meta-passage about the Steppenwolf that's scary, comfortable, and eerie. Harry reads about himself, the Steppenwolf, and we read along. The effects are positively mind-boggling. On goes this treatise for a scary, twenty pages. In a way, the narrative of the book is like the word itself - the treatise is like the p's, just after the start, stressful and direct, and forms the crux of its whole; on either side is Harry Haller disillusioned that he is a divided soul; on the later parts of the book comes the Wolf, truly out and parading in the open and enjoying it all. Surely, the word is no coincidence. That, or I'm in one helluva good acid trip.
As for me, I love the p's. I love the Treatise and I think I shall be reading that part over and over again, just as Haller does. (less)
The first time I started reading this, I put it down past the twentieth page, I think. Maybe I was more into genre fiction back then; maybe I found th...moreThe first time I started reading this, I put it down past the twentieth page, I think. Maybe I was more into genre fiction back then; maybe I found the style too jarring. It was four years back so it's possible.
This is the thing about the book. It's like Faulkner but less tiring. Once you let go of the constant effort to make meaning out of the text, the less entertaining it becomes. Faulkner never gave the reader incentive for trying but Heller keeps you up with the absurd situations and the garden path sentences. They are a laugh riot.
That's only the first part of the book though. Around about the one hundred fifty pages mark, the book starts getting sombre, and starts tying up ends. Things start making sense and the jokes get repetitive. But I didn't want to quit a second time over, so I put up with it.
The book could have been more compact. The ending addresses the issues that it started with in the first place. If only the book were half the size it is, it could have been perfect and tight as a drum. Well, what the hell, Yossarian keeps us company.(less)
Is it possible that some people are good at writing certain settings and not that good at others? Sure is, I say. R. K. Narayan writing dystopia would...moreIs it possible that some people are good at writing certain settings and not that good at others? Sure is, I say. R. K. Narayan writing dystopia would sure be a laugh riot. I’ve read another book by Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of The Lane. It was an audio book and he wrote it partciularly suited for that. Apart from that, the story tied up well, the characters fit together, the plot line twisted and turned but always traced a well-defined and structured path. Look, I get it. This book is about Americans and their geography. An American might get all minute details in this book that maybe I have missed. The backdrop of having gods to say a story about a land is clever. But what’s the story really about, Scotty? I don’t know. I was thrilled by the sequence of new gods appearing and all the details that preceded it to let the reader guess. He also skipped the Abrahamic religions apparently. He feared controversies and bad publicity maybe, and that’s fair enough, I say.
The writing style. The flow was jarring at places. In fact, the writing was not consistent through out in terms of style. Sure, it’s just he-said, she-said for conversations and straight forward descriptions but the whole thing could have been more polished. Since this is a plot-driven novel rather than a character-driven one, it is not fair to be pedantic in this issue.
The coin tricks. I skipped the description of how Shadow does these tricks. Why shouldn’t I? I want to know about the gods, goddamit, not coin tricks. They were repetitive and interesting, maybe, to magicians, that too only the expert card magicians.
SPOILERS AHEAD. (view spoiler)[ The anticlimax I was promised a war every few pages until the five hundredth page and I, like Shadow, keep my word and expect others to. I didn’t get a war. I got a cop out ending with a “It was me, all along.” cliché line. That’s not completely fair. The author was competent to keep the thrill going until the last few hundred pages and then he completely gave up on the plot, and by doing that he gave up on me, the reader.
The climax doesn’t deal with the friction between old gods and the new, and it doesn’t resolve it. Basically, what I get is a slice of life novel about gods in real life. I expected a more complete novel which resolves the issue. In other words, the author refuses to comment on the matter. He simply shows us things and leaves it there.
Cardboard characters. Shadow is inconsistent with his feeling all through the book.
Wednesday: At first, they have an indifferent relationship, each doing his work only. Then they seem to have a chemistry, at least in the work they are doing. Then there is suddenly death and Shadow stands vigil for Wednesday. That came out of nowhere for me. Shadow seemed like an empty shell who wouldn't do anything and suddenly he gave up his life for this stranger. Then he hates Wednesday and then he misses him. Well, you lost me.
Laura: He loves her and she loves him, from the phone conversations. Then she dies. Then we find she cheated on him. He doesn't react well. He doesn't react at all. This is the beginning of the rift between character and reader, and it only grows throughout the book. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I’d read Post Office and loved it. Henry Chinaski had a brutal philosophy of life and took it to extremes. The theme moved and was fast enough to hold...moreI’d read Post Office and loved it. Henry Chinaski had a brutal philosophy of life and took it to extremes. The theme moved and was fast enough to hold the interest of a reader. Women fails in that facet. As the title says, it’s about women of Bukowski’s life and how he handles them. There’s drinking, fucking and flirting. Then there’s more drinking and fucking.
The way Chinaski objectifies women by deconstructing them into breasts, legs and ankles is funny the first fifty times but loses its lustre after the one hundred and fiftieth time. I’m serious. He keeps doing that again and again. I don’t think he gave a shit if it was funny or not. He was just writing it as it is. I toiled with the book but I knew there was no sudden change coming. This is Bukowski, not Jeffrey Archer. There are no twists in real life, Hank would say.
I’d heard that Women was one of the best of Bukowski’s works. I think Post Office is. Neither of them are literature. They are half-assed works of fiction that have no structure, no stylistic aspect, absolutely no rigid grammatical rules. They all read like a journal of a twenty year old. The success of Bukowski is not his writing but his life itself. He lived the degenerate alcoholic and wrote about it. He found himself a niche that nobody wanted. (less)
I had high hopes for this book. Where did I first acquaint with it? It was… a magazine interview with Jeet Thayil, that was followed by quick internet...moreI had high hopes for this book. Where did I first acquaint with it? It was… a magazine interview with Jeet Thayil, that was followed by quick internet searches of him which finally ended with ordering this book on Amazon.
The first chapter is a five page long sentence, though crafty, is mostly phrases connected by commas, a shotgun approach that gives away everything to the reader in snatches and images while also acquainting us to the narrator. A clever way to start a book that’s about drugs - a rush of images and jumps from one location to another.
The book starts off with an expert narrative that disguises the true nature of the protagonist by not hiding it. It gives it to you but doesn’t draw you to the facts again and again as is the norm to impression the reader with certain details. By not doing this, by giving the reader little tidbits of the characters, a certain crescendo is reached somewhere after fifty pages where things suddenly become more clear. I found it Faulkner-ish and delighting.
I had an expectation that this was the method of storytelling the writer is going to employ throughout the novel. I expected interludes of confusing narratives and seemingly inane-ness, followed by a high wave when things are revealed. The intermediate narrative about Lee seemed out of place but I expected a tying together which never happened. The novel was initially six hundred pages long apparently and was cut down because Indian publishers wouldn’t accept it (that’s what they think of us – idiots incapable of reading books more than two hundred pages.) Maybe the tying together happened in those lost three hundred pages, maybe they happened on the writer’s mind and of some select readers’, maybe I’m too rich to understand it, but I was expecting more pedagogy and control from the writer, and possibly a conclusion to what the book was about. It was about opium, yes, it was about poverty, yes, it was a gonzo look into the drug underworld of Bombay, sure, but is it wrong to ask for a little bit more?
Many have complained that the characters are not memorable. Whether this was intentional or not, only Jeet knows. I was away from the book for a couple of days and I couldn’t get back to it. The characters seemed cardboardish and I ended up starting over. I was willing to do it because in Jeet I trusted. And he did not let me down. I was rewarded with a poetic prose, sometimes sarcastic and funny, sometimes genuine, sometimes disgusting. Nevertheless the more memorable characters of Newton Xavier and Dom didn’t get a foreground in the story. Especially Newton Xavier. He was singular in the narrative and pumped it up but was quickly gone. I do believe Jeet’s upcoming book, The Sex Lives of Saints is about Newton Xavier (ref: Jeet Thayil mentioned in an interview that the book was about one of the characters from Narcopolis.)
Minor qualms and nitpickings: The narrative of Mr. Lee moved slow and blandly, from one thing to next. The only high parts were memorable images of an insect that is Lee’s father holding the pipe and the aptness with which it conveys the entire drug addict situation. There is an abundance of ‘he saw’, ‘he noticed’, ‘was doing’, ‘was happening’, ‘was made’ (p.105-109) and ‘had been’, ‘had changed’ (p.109). It’s jarring, timid and unlike the strong narrative with which the book started. Maybe this was intentional to show the scenes in a certain slow way from Lee’s view. Or maybe it was something the editor missed. The inconsistency in the narrative style is twined with the story itself, maybe. (less)
I was halfway through when a friend sat by me, in the library, looking over my shoulders. He said he'd heard about this book. It was descriptive. Des...more I was halfway through when a friend sat by me, in the library, looking over my shoulders. He said he'd heard about this book. It was descriptive. Descriptive. As opposed to brief.
John Berger said about this book, "Never again will a single story be told as though it's the only one." I agree.
There are some writers who get away with writing things only because they write it in a certain way. Salinger, Stevie King, and now, Arundhati Roy. The styles of these writers are unique and discernible.
Holden is arguably one of the characters that pushed the papers and banged against the bookcovers to come out and live. The character of Rahel is as realistic as Holden. This book will leave a Rahel shaped hole in your universe. Rahel who reads backward. Rahel, the Airport Fairy.
I have gotten myself into a lot of trouble reading this book. Now, I'm going to be writing for a while in phrases and chunks of consciousness. (less)
In the current series of author experimentation, I landed upon this masterpiece, with its yellow cover and the translucent picture of the author peepi...moreIn the current series of author experimentation, I landed upon this masterpiece, with its yellow cover and the translucent picture of the author peeping through the cover page.
Short stories are usually difficult to write and yet, once you have a certain node, it's very easy to let it all go on paper. What is a mammoth task is finding that node and holding it straight for so many stories.
They are all different but the mood is all the same. Mood to me is the image you see in your head as you read it. Stephen King conjures a high definition image with roaring speakers all around, blasting away and you end up living in the story. Thomas Hardy paints a movie narrated in a Morgan Freeman voice, giving character insights and description biases occasionally. Jhumpa Lahiri is a quiet writer. She doesn't lick the readers all over, smothering them and pulling them into the universe. Her narratives go straight to the point and she doesn't dwell on descriptions. I would like more vivid descriptions but the conciseness adds to her charm.
Some stories didn't strike until the last few pages. I found myself thinking (even wanting enviously) that she had failed but she came back with a BAM! and hit me right in the face.
I cannot completely disregard the fact that I'm Indian and this could have also been a reason for the complete sync I felt with almost all the stories.
Good books are the ones that leave with you an envy and a disappointment that you'll never write anything close to them in a thousand years and Jhumpa left with a huge insecurity that I can only hope to fill.(less)