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All That Remains…

I finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” yesterday as part of my Reading England Project. I had heard enough of this book and again the fact that this was a Booker Prize winner put me on the guard! But seems like recent events seem to be turning my view on Booker Prize winning works – take for instance “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” and now “The Remains of the Day”. I feel like kicking myself for not reading this work earlier and having lost out on such lovely, beautiful and absolutely heart breaking experience. I think I have just shared the very core of the book, but let’s nevertheless get on with the details.

Set in 1956, the novel is written in a first person narrative of Steven’s, the butler at Darlington Hall. Darlington Hall has recently been bought by an American Mr. Faraday from the heirs for Lord Darlington, and had requested Stevens to continue in his capacity as a butler for him as well. Since Mr. Faraday was going away for some time to America, he generously offers Stevens the use of his Ford as well for providing his food and lodging cost, if Stevens chose to take a short vacation. The receipt of a letter by Ms. Kenton, the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall, in which he believes there are hints of an unhappy marriage, Steven’s proposes to take a “motoring tour” both to enjoy a vacation and to revisit Ms. Kenton and to better understand if she was likely to return to her employment at Darlington Hall. Over the next six days, Stevens drives across England and each day, he recalls his life and certain incidents in past – memories of life at Darlington Hall during the intervening war years, the glory days of Lord Darlington and his eventual fall from grace, of Ms. Kenton’s tenure at Darlington Hall and her departure from Darlington Hall after her marriage in 1935, her relationship with Stevens and Stevens own relationship with his father and his understanding of “dignity” and “duty”. His motoring trip finally culminates in his meeting Ms. Kenton after 20 years and the dawning realization of all that is lost and all that remains of his day!

What can I say about the book that has already not been said? There is tragedy, there is pathos, there is heart break and finally there is resilience! Steven’s character is beautifully drawn out as a man whose understanding and diligence at his profession, makes him loose on what is lost to him as a human and a man. His expectation from himself and his complete belief in Lord Darlington’s purpose is touching and deeply moving! Ms. Kenton is a wonderful flesh and blood character that sparkles and shines, with all the emotions of failings and triumphs! Lord Darlington is a brilliant character from the long gone past of “gentlemanly conduct” and “Noblesse oblige, a misfit in an era of cunning political maneuvers and double diplomacy, where his best intentions lead him to his ruin – a familiar tale for many once great people. The plot is beautifully woven, passing between past and present, showcasing the lost grandeur of landed gentry and the changing society of post-world war England. The language is mesmerizing…it’s not lyrical or poetic, but it is English language at its best! Straightforward, crisp, succinct and rich! Despite the tragic stain of the book, there are innumerable moments of brilliant and subtle wit which takes off the tension and makes you laugh. Finally, inspite of the pathos and the heartbreak, it is not a bleak book – it is tribute to the resilience of human soul and its ability to look beyond and move on!

Brilliant, mesmerizing and absolutely marvelous!!

Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs….

I know! I know! It’s been far too long that I have been away! The leaves have fallen from the trees and children have grown old and all that! (Yes! I know I am indulging in simple bombastic melodrama, including the blog title) But I have been again on a mini blogging hiatus, simply because my day job, aka. The Project Manager got really crazy and we had two back to back conferences, where everybody had a point and I had to ensure every one’s point was accommodated and yada yada!

In between all of this, I had several minor technology crises – my phone died! I mean it died. It simply refused to work again, no amount of charging and attempts to power on worked and I realized that I had to (Sob! Sob! ) buy a new phone! I am not a gadgety person – give me a cell phone and I will make it work for atleast 5 years and this one broke down after only 4 years!! I am so not impressed. Anyway so I bought a phone and there was all the hullabaloo about switching plans and moving all my contacts and getting used to a touch pad (which I hate! And yes! My phone was that old – when keypads were a REQUIREMENT). Just when I had the phone figured out, my laptop screen decided to crazy and developed streaks. Suddenly everything came through in various shaded of grey, light grey, blue and dark blue. So the screen had to be replaced! Needless to say there was not too much time left to do anything!

I was so exhausted most of the days after managing projects and technology that all I wanted was a light read – so I dug up all my old Asterix Comic books and I read them all. I know the plots are all similar and kind of repetitive, but I do love the puns and the “foreign relations”. They gave me a good break from all that was mundane and stressful.

I am also almost through with Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day”. I want to kick myself for having waited so long to read this. It is such a brilliant piece of work, with subtle humor and deep insights. I have to read more Ishiguro for sure! I will hopefully be able to share a more detailed review in a day or two

I am also really enjoying Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”. I had completely forgotten how witty the book is. I also somehow cannot recollect why I thought Henry Tilney to be such a colorless character. True he is no Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth, but that’s where his worth is – in his being absolutely every day, but a good every day! I so loved his dry irreverent humor!

My progresses through my non-fictional works have been sporadic and surprising. I kind of thought that John Norwich’s tome “The Short History of Byzantium” would be heavy and difficult to get through. It is very academic but it’s also interspersed with anecdotes and humor that not only is it a historically rich book, but actually a fun read! The same cannot however be said about Gerard Russell’s “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms”. It’s kind of all over the place that as a reader you are constantly worrying as to how all the dots are connected! I still have a couple of chapters to go, but I am not holding out much hope!

To finish this reading update, I want to just touch upon the serious genius of Terry Pratchett – my flatmate says he is not an author, but a do gooder, altruistic man. I have to agree – in one of those bizzare and extremely stressful days, I picked up his “Feet of Clay” for a re-read and within 2 hours, he had made the world a far better and humane place for me, without being didactic or pedagogic, all the while managing to tell a great story with a LOT of ROFL moments! You are a genius Sir Pratchett and the world is a better place because of writers like you!

That’s my “small” note to put you all up to speed with my “happening, fast paced, never a moment to breathe” life! I will be back soon talking more about books!!

Escaping Spirits….

I had heard great things about Sarah Water’s “Affinity” and I was glad to finally get hold of it, though I was reading it practically after a decade since its original publication.

The book is set in Victorian England and traces events that take place between 1872 to 1875.  Margaret Prior is a 29 year old woman, now designated as a spinster who is recovering from an “illness”. On chance of a suggestion of a family friend, Mr. Shillitoe, she undertakes to visit, Millbank Prison – Women’s Ward as a “lady visitor” in order to provide comfort and guidance to the inmates. Margaret initially finds the visits difficult and feels suffocated every time she enters the prison wall; however life at home is not happy. Her beloved father, a scholar with whom she used to work closely had died two years ago, putting an end to all her academic aspirations. On top of this came the marriage of her close friend Helen to her brother and Margaret suddenly finds she completely lonely and in a fit of depression attempted to commit suicide. She was rescued in time by her mother and since then has been constantly guarded and scolded into better humor; Margaret still feels lonely and sees her visits to Millbank as same way to create a semblance of rationality and sobriety. Soon she starts getting comfortable with the wardens and inmates of the prison and especially begins to feel a special interest in a prisoner named Selina Dawes. Margaret discovers that Selina Dawes was a spiritualist who acted as a medium and in one of séance, a girl was been assaulted, leading to Selina’s imprisonment under charges of fraud and assault. Selina initially rebuffs Margaret’s friendly overtures, but soon begins to talk to her on her violation. Margaret soon begins to find an “affinity” with Selina, and is soon led to believe in the world of spirits and mediums, as her life is filled with proof after proof, finally letting her realize that there is a higher purpose because of which events led her to Selina and she must help Selina escape from the Prison to fulfill that purpose.

The book had a lot of promise – a Victorian Era Prison Break with a dash of “ghosts” and “spiritualism”. But the promise did not hold. The first 100 pages of the book to begin with are enough to bore you to death! The plot does not grip you atleast until you reach page 151 or so and by then, you have lost all your patience with the main characters.  What should have been a fast paced edgy writing drags on and on about the miserable conditions in the prison at that time until, you are confused if Dickens wondered into Conon Doyle land or vice-versa or what??!!! Nobody is discounting the fact that the prision system then and I would say even now is harsh and horrible place; but to keep drumming it into the readers brain for 100+ odd pages is really OTTing it, especially when the point could have been driven home in 20 odd pages in far more effective and crisp writing. Then come the characters of the book – Margaret Prior, I could have thrown a book at!! She is miserable sopping insipid creature alternately crying for her “Pa” and “Helen”. Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird!!! Naturally!!) tells us that not only must we wear another man’s shoe but walk a mile in it before we can pass a judgment. Well I know what it feels like being dumped and then losing a parent, but it is not the end of the world. I mean for a while it is but, then you get your bearings back and move on. But our dear Margaret Prior moans about the death of her Pa and Helen’s marriage, though both the events happened two years ago! I understand sensitivity and all that, but woman you are rich, have a loving family (at least some members are very loving!) and your whole life, but no….dark and miserable Ms. Prior shall be! I had no feelings left for her in the end except “Duh!!!”  Selina Dawes is another confused creature, I will be happy with my spirits, I will not be happy with my spirits. Ye! Gods!  Though I could not relate to Selina Dawes either, at least her character in the end showed some spunk, though I am not sure I agree with it at all!! The language is clichéd and hackneyed “heart in the mouth” “It would be terribly wrong” …I mean what???!!!! The restorative features are , one of course the historical detailing and accuracy of the 19th century prison system, though I think it was way to unnecessary to spend so much time in describing each and every aspect of the prison, especially considering some of the descriptions had absolutely no bearing on the main plot. The other second redeeming feature of the book was naturally the last few pages, as the picture came together, though once again as reader you felt, er….how did? When did?

In the end, I must admit that I am sorry to have spent a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon reading this dark and extremely dissatisfying novel. Now it’s up to the combined efforts of Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey) and Terry Pratchett (Feet of Clay) to revive my “spirits”, banish the headache brought as an aftereffect of reading this ‘work” and salvaging whatever remains of my Sunday!!

Reading in January…

The much awaited vacation for which I went GA-GA for entire December is over!! Like all good things, this too came to an end and I go back to work tomorrow! (Sob! Sob! Noooooo) Well I sneaked in today as an extended leave and I really should not complain. I mean without a Monday hanging over the vacation, it’s not all that bad to start your work week again from a Tuesday! Anyway, my vacation was very very peaceful – I did exactly what I wanted to do – cooking, catching up with friends, going out for dinners and naturally reading and reading and some more reading! Therefore December turned out to be a brilliant reading month and flowing from that, has set high standards for January.

The reading plan for January is well electric to say the least! I am plodding through my Anthony Trollope’s The Palliser novels; his books are like a fine wine –dry, subtle and to be taken in measured doses. I am simply loving it and prolonging the reading as much as possible!! Also left over from my December reading list is Sarah Water’s “Affinity”. I just started it and I am still deciding about it! I have also gotten hold of “The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. I have heard some brilliant things about this book and I am really looking forward to reading it. Also in the reading plans are my two event reads – Goodread’s Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts is hosting the January read along and the book is “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen. This Austen rates kind of lower in my Austenlistoranking (Yes! I made that word up!) But it’s still Austen, so I will participate for the sheer joy of reading Austenion humor! Also as part of Reading England, I kick starting the event with “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. (I had initially listed a Du Maurier as part of this event, but since Jamaica Inn, I have sworn to stay away from all her works! At least for some time to come!)

Finally in a conscious effort to read more Non Fiction and other writing, I am reading “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms” by Gerard Russell. The book reviews the history and the current problems faced by the lesser known religions of Middle East including Mandaeans, Ezidis and the Copts. I have always been fascinated by this region and my Master’s thesis was on Middle Easters Religion based Politics. This book seemed like a good place to pick up something I left behind. As a companion reader to this or rather Heirs is the companion reader, I have finally dug up the tome written by John Norwich called “The Short History of Byzantium”  – this book is anything but short and is extremely well researched and detailed. I will need some months to finish it, but this month seemed like a good place to start the event!

That is my reading plan for January; I am sure there will be additions and deletions on this list, especially after I read reviews of some book or the other  posted by my bloggy mentors (I am directly hinting at at you two – Jane and Stefanie! 😉 ). But until then, this is the original premises!

Happy Reading!

About Seven Sisters from Ireland…

I am sure we all have read some books that keep stay with you long after you have finished reading it. They surround you, filter your thoughts and makes you want to sit and go over all of it again; as if unravelling a multitude of wrappings until you reach the very core and as each layer falls away, you see something unseen! I was very fortunate in reading two books back to back that gave me similar experience – maybe it’s like my friend Stefanie says, it book karma; (after a bad book, you are bound to get a good one!) but whatever it is I feel extremely fortunate to have read through not one but two such works within a short space of time. The first one of these that I have already discussed is “The Narrow Road to Deep North” by Richard Flanagan – the book was a cathartic experience.  The second book which I wanted to share with you today is “The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters” by Michelle Lovric. I had heard a lot of praise about this book from a lot of people, including Jane and my flatmate, and I had bought it long back, but it was only recently, I was able to read it!

The book opens in 1850’s Ireland, where in the small town of Harristown in County Kildare, Annora Swinney, a poor laundress is struggling to bring up her seven daughters. The country is still in the grips of last stages of the Potatoes Famine and the Swinney family living a hand to mouth. Despite the pitiful growing conditions, the Swinney sisters grow up with strong personalities and a lot of hair. Each daughter is endowed with long rich tresses of various shades that reach up to their ankles. Darcy the eldest has dark black and is the ruthless bully who threatens storms and beats her sisters into harmony and coordination. The twins Enda and Bernice are both brunettes and that’s where all their similarity ends as they fight and compete with each other for their very existence. The red haired Manticory is the intellectual of the family and it is her voice which guides us through the story! Oona is the blonde and the gentle one of the family, while Pertilly and Ida are the youngest, follow their sisters and are divided into the tribal lines – Enda, Manticory and Ida and Bernice, Oona and Pertilly, with Darcy reigning supreme. As the sisters struggle through their lives, Darcy one day decides to form a show with the seven sisters singing and dancing, showcasing their abundant hair. While the sisters are not sure about the whole enterprise and their mother does not approve at all, the girls start performing and very soon the fame of the hair spreads beyond the borders of Harristown.  They are soon accosted by Mr. Rainflerury a doll maker who wants to make the Sweeny dolls and in the bid to market these dolls and their original better, he moves the Sweeny sister’s to Dublin. As more fame and fortune comes rolling in for the Sweeny sisters, do does loss, heartbreak and emotional breakdowns until their eventual fall from riches!

This is a beautifully well written sensitive book! The descriptions are harsh, but accurate and the struggles of poverty and of being young unprotected women in a men’s world as described by Ms. Loveric is stripped of all romance. The story line is strong, the plot completely plausible and the pace is breathless and keeps you running page after page. There are lovely descriptions of Venice and the author lovingly details all its splendor and grandeur! But what really holds the book together is the characterization of the sisters; I have rarely ever come across an ensemble where the entire cast is so unique and glitteringly brilliant. Ms. Lovric infuses life, independence and exclusive personality to each of the sisters to make them stand apart from the other. Darcy is mean bully, Manticory the intellectual, Pertilly, the ugly one in a family of beauties, gentle Oona, the constant hatred of the twins and shy and sensitive Ida. As you follow the sisters through their rags to riches and then back to rags story, the reader is subjected the entire spectrum of sisterhood – hatred and love, envy and generosity and while they slowly fall under different influences, they also cling together in their tribaldom. You might not like all of them, you may not even relate to all of them, but you cannot, you simply cannot ignore any one of them. They jump out of the pages of the book and grip your imagination and stay with you even after you have long finished reading it!

The Girl and The Inn Keeper and Cornwall

Jamaica Inn” was part of my December reading event for Goodreads Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts. I already was extremely disappointed with “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier and I had hoped that since my opinion of her work was based on only one book, I should keep an open mind and re-read this one.

The book is set in 1820 in Cornwall around a pub house that apparently still exists or at least used to when Daphne Du Maurier wrote the novel. Mary Yellan has recently been orphaned and her mother’s dying wish is that she sells the farm and goes and stays with her aunt Patience who lives with her husband Joss Merlyn, an Inn Keeper at Jamaica Inn. Mary sells her farm at Helford and travels to reside with her uncle and aunt. She soon discovers that her happy once happy aunt has become a dithering, scared and silly fool under the constant treat and bullying from her husband Joss Merlyn. Mary soon discovers that under the guise of Inn keeping Joss Merlyn actually does illegal smuggling by wrecking ships of Cornish cost. She realizes that her uncle is completely ruthless when one night she over hears him giving order of a murder of one his team members who disagreed with him. Worried about her aunt’s safety and eager to get out of her uncle’s clutches, she concocts various plans to escape from Jamaica Inn; but these go awry as she discovers kinship with Jem Merlyn, the younger brother of her uncle. Confused as to whether to trust Jem or not, she turns for advise to Francis Davey,Vicar of Altarum, an Albino gentleman with all kinds of unforeseen results!

Where do I begin??!! The cast in itself is really bad and clichéd. Mary Yellan enters Jamaica Inn for the first time and is immediately scared of her uncle, then before you can blink your eye, she is defending her aunt? Where does this courage come from and if it was there, why was she so scared in the beginning? She is constantly confused – like Jem/don’t like Jem!! Ye Gods!! Joss Merlyn is the arch-typical villain who has more strength than brains – no prize there for any originality; nor is there any real charm in Jem Merlyn except he is a crook of lower order – his brother kills people( heinous of course!) and Jem steals horses ( a much less horrific crime), but a lesser crime is no excuse for committing it none the less! The worst was characterization was Francis Davey – nonsensical, clichéd and without any foundation. The plot drags and drags and at one point you just want Mary to die or something instead of sitting through another chapter of her traipsing through Cornwall moors. The only redeeming feature of the book is the description of Cornwall and the dark mood that Ms. Du Maurier is able to create through inclement weather and the planning and execution of horrific crimes. That alone provides relief in an otherwise very ordinary work.

Daphne Du Maurier just does not improve on closer acquaintance. I am glad this re-read is over and I am NOT touching a Du Maurier for some time!

A Musical Lyrical 2015

Happy New Year Everyone!! Here’s wishing you all a wonderful, prosperous and peaceful 2015, surrounded by everything and everyone you love!! Ring in the new!!

Just so that we have some fun on this first day of the year, I break away from tradition and not post about books and poems and such like. Instead I share with you all 15 cheerful, happy and optimistic songs, with a prayer that your year is filled with all these good things!

So here goes – hope your dancing shoes are still on :

Cheers All!!

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