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Posts tagged ‘Crime Fiction’

The Madness Updates

Beloweth are the updates of my valiant attempts at this 24 hour readathon!!

Update 1

Hour 1  –  18:47 IST

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Page 112 of 323

Take on the Book – intriguing. Seems to be veering around cliches but yet not fall into them. Difficulty in developing empathy for the protagonist; but its getting better so one never knows!

Snacks Update -Water & Nuts

Update 2

Hour 4 – 20:40 IST

Still on The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Page 201 of 323

Take on the Book –  Still intriguing. Cannot like the protagonist; she goes around doing nasty things and then cannot believe she has done it! No idea why everyone has patience with her! Plot line seems to go around traditional damsel-in-distress-syndrome where only a strong but have suffered much man can redeem the protagonist. If I was not curious as to who the killer is, I would have barfed  by now! But I plod on!

Snacks Update – Butter Milk – the bestest drink in India!

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Update 3

Hour 6.5 – 00:00 IST

Finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Thinking of Starting The Book of Snobs by WM Thackery and then varying the pace even more by also starting on the Land of Seven Rivers by Sandeep Sanyal

Take on the Book – Some bits cliches and some bit contrived but still very readable, at least a good one time, curl up and read it on kind of read. There are parts that you get completely hooked on to as well plot turns that are clever and your appreciate the craftsmanship of it it! But not startlingly HAVE TO READ variety!

Snacks Update – Took a break and had Dinner with flatmate!

Update 4

Hour 10 – 2:39 IST

Started reading Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

Page 41 of 352

Take on the Book – Easy to read for a layman. Shares interesting information about how Geography shaped the evolution of Indian History, though I do feel a very strong Right wing leaning! But then that may be nothing and I am only on Chapter 2 for now.

Snacks Update – Water/Milk and the much awaited English Shortbread

Note – Maybe last post of the night as really need to get some shut eye to be bright eyed and all active for remaining day tomorrow!

Update 5

Hour 15.5 – 8:00 IST

Woke up an hour back after napping for couple of hours. Finished early morning chores and now back in the “Reading Zone”!

Continuing with Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

Page 69 of 352

Take on the Book – Well researched. Provides Historic and scientific insights to keep the narrative grounded in facts. But still cannot quite overcome the feeling of Right wing leanings, especially since we all know facts can manipulated to prove anything! But still early in to the book to draw a firm conclusion!

Snacks Update – Masala Tea

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View of the valley, which my apartment overlooks. This is what my balcony opens to & my favorite reading spot

Also because I missed the Mid -Event Survey, posted about 2 hours ago, on account of it being like 6:00 am and snooze time, I post the updates now –

Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now?

Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

2. How many books have you read so far?

1…I think speed reading is not my thing!

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

The one I am currently reading!

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Some. Despite pre-planning people did call, though I managed to keep the conversations short!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

The adrenaline! I never realized the rush one gets in this kind of break neck virtual club reading event!

Update 6

Hour 19 – 11:00 IST

I cannot believe I am feeling so very nostalgic about the up coming closure! I will so miss this event!!

Continuing with Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

Page 119 of 352

Take on the Book – Well researched. Some very intresting learnings. Like the Yezhedi Tribe in Iran shares common DNA with the North Indian population and that there seems to be a movement of this population not only from Iran to India but also back to India. Extremely well written descriptions of the epics connecting with current Indian fauna and flora, proving the possibility that the events of Ramayana and Mahabharata may have actually happened. The only take is, this is a well researched and well written history, the claim to geography remains limited to the two major highways that link India north and south and east and west, which have in operation since centuries.

Snacks Update – Big Lazy Sunday Breakfast – Very English! Toast, Eggs, Sausages, Pot of Tea and Juice. Sunday indulgences, since Monday to Saturday its oats or cornflakes!

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook and I think it sums my Readathon Sunday just perfectly!

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Update 7

Hour 21- 13:52 IST

Boooohoooooo!! Someone make the time stop!!

Continuing with Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal. Also started on The Book of Snobs by WM Thackeray for change in variety.

Page 147 of 352 for the former and Page 26 of 130 for later

Take on the Book –  Land of Seven Rivers is getting better by the minute. Loving the rich historical and now significantly enriched geographical history that shaped the fortunes and lives of India, both land based and maritime. Loaded with facts and filled with some very interesting insights into the neglected everyday history of common man, I am at this point super impressed with the book . One of the best Historical reads in a long time. Thackeray is brilliant as always, but I will do a separate review for his book as part of my Victober Reading Update!

Snacks Update – Lunch –  Grilled Fish

Update 8

Hour 24- 16:37 IST

This is the end, my friend!

Continuing with Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal. Also read up  The Book of Snobs by WM Thackeray for change in variety.

Page 278 of 352 for the former and Page 56 of 130 for later

Take on the Book –  Land of Seven Rivers is the HIGHLIGHT of this reading event for me. Rarely am I ever so impressed with Indian Historians but Mr.Sanyal’s work is indeed quite good. In-depth research, an easy to read narrative, that mixes facts with some wonderful lesser known nuggets of history. For the first time, after many years of reading History, I had a sense of Ah! So that’s how that happened!! Having said that, the geography part of the book is limited. Its picks up and then loses the strain and does not quite fulfill the promise of a “geographic history”. There is of course a distinct right wing /nationalist twang to the book, but it is not a blind absolutely fundamentalist approach. It’s more of a belief system that kind of guides the narrative.

Snacks Update – Yougurt

The Parisian Murders

Again, this post should have been written like anons ago, but as I have been explaining, practically in all my posts of May, that, Travel, illness, weddings and other social events kind of got me completely off tracked….however, I am back and like they say, lets get the show moving. As part of 12 Months Classical Reading Challenge, where the April theme was “A classic you’ve seen the movie/miniseries/TV show of”, I read Murders at Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe. Now, as God be my witness, with so many films and television shows based on books, I have no idea why at that point I was penning the list did I choose this one! Except, that I made the list right after the Winter holidays, where I spend another film watching marathon on every single film starring Val Kilmer. To take a minor detour from the usual book review post, let me quickly give you a background – I was 8 when I saw Top Gun….it was nearly 5 years since it had originally be released in US, but India was still playing catch up. A cousin of my best friend had gotten a VCD of film as a gift to her and we sat down to watch something that had  been cool in US 6-7 years back! Oh! Well! While my best friend drooled over Tom Cruise (natually) I was completely mesmerized by the golden haired gum chewing bad boy – Val Kilmer. I feel in love and I am still in love though I know he is old and well not as happening as he used to be, but hey…this true love and true love abides! Back to present day, while I books own my soul and I do not like films too much, there are times when I indulge and Val Kilmer movie marathon was one such indulgence. For those who do not know his film credits by heart. The Murders at Rue Morgue was a made for television movie in 1986 and had a pretty impressive star cast of George C. Scott, Rebecca De Mornay, besides Kilmer. While I saw the film, I had never read the novella and it made sense to read Poe as part of this event!

The Murder at Rue Morgue begins with the narrator sharing with the readers a theory on analytic and analysis and how the latter influences the former and then introduces us to his friend Auguste Dupin, a brilliant man not particularly social with certain eccentricities with whom the narrator shares an apartment. Their daily routines of reading through the day and writing and debating and walking the streets of Paris in the night, is disturbed as the news of the gruesome double murder of  Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter in the Rue Morgue, erupts in the city. The details of murder are bizarre and grotesque – the Madame L’Espanaye throat is badly cut that her head is barely attached and her daughter, after being strangled, has been stuffed into the chimney. The murder occurs in an inaccessible room on the fourth floor locked from the inside. The neighbors who heard the screams of the two women and ran into the house claim that they heard two voices talking – one in French and the other in another language, which each neighbor accounted for differently; one called it Italian, another Spanish, yet another English and another said Russian. There seemed no clear motive for murder either ; the mother and daughter were quite retiring ladies who saw very few people, but  shared a mutual affection. It was an interesting fact that Madame L’Espanaye had made a withdrawal of $4000 a day before her murder, but the money was found stewen all over the chamber. The police arrested the clerk who worked in the bank and has escorted Madame L’Espanaye back to her house, after she made the withdrawal, but they are unable to establish a motive and most importantly explain the murders. Dupin who had received a favor from the bank clerk starts his investigation to clear the latter’s name and reveal a most unusual and improbable events that led to the murders.

This was the first tale where Poe had introduced his now famous Dupin and he does full justice to his character. Dupin is not flamboyant like his competitor Mr. Holmes and he does not display any habits like violin playing or indulging in drugs. He is however eccentric, anti-social, connoisseur of books, with brilliance that like a streak of bright light hurtling at you. The mental processes which Poe showcases through Dupin are steeped in psychology and human behavior and the reader has to pay very close attention to all the details to genuinely enjoy the marvels of a brilliant mind. The novella is not a nail biting mystery, where you are hanging on by each page, but a slow revelation in intellectual persistence and layer by layer, the mystery is revealed. The conclusion, I thought both for the film and book was a bit exotic  and sensational – but then considering the time and audience the books were being written for, it seems to also kind of fall in place.  The language is simple, but since Poe uses a lot of psychological analysis in moving his plot forward, it is not a breezy mystery read to be rushed through! A very fine read and though I have not yet given up my devotion to Holmes, I have every intention of exploring a bit more of Mr. Dupin’s mind!

A final P.S. note before I end this post – this film is the an example of very reason why I do not like watching films based on books! On reading the novella, I discovered there is no Horace (Val Kilmer) and Dupin played by Scott is an old retired police officer who was discharged from the police force for disagreeing with the chief! There is his daughter played by De Mornay who is engaged to philandering but innocent of the murder bank clerk! I understand taking artistic liberties, but this is just stretching the whole liberty to a new height!! Stick to the books I say!

 

The Body in The Cellar

Ok..so this post really belonged to the month of March. But like I keep saying March was a brilliant glittering vacation and lot of unexpected readings, so this kind of went in the back burner! But Dorothy Sayers is Dorothy Sayers and her talent cannot lie hidden for long and I was soon hooked till I reached the finishing line! Busman’s Honeymoon (Lord Peter Wimsy #13 by Dorothy Sayers was my  third Reading England Book for the year, focusing on Hertfordshire and my first ever Dorothy Sayers! Yes! I know! I know! I have spent all my adult years without reading a Dorothy Sayers mystery and you have no idea on which planet I was living in and all that! But what can I say? I just never got around to it! Anyhow lets get on with the book!

Busman’s Honeymoon begins with the wedding of Lord Peter Wimsy to his long standing inamorata Miss Harriet Vane and departing for his honeymoon accompanied by his faithful valet Bunter to a farmhouse in Hertfordshire, a long cherished place of Harriets. However on arriving to the farmhouse, they find the scene quite chaotic, the owner, Noakes, from whom the farmhouse had been bought, is missing and no one, including his niece are even aware that the farmhouse had been sold. As the Wimsy’s try an settle in, they discover creditors looking for Noakes for money that he has not returned and other less savory sides to his character like his borrowing and never returning sums of money from his niece and the gardener and his miser like behavior towards everyone including the upkeep of the farmhouse! Soon all these discoveries are held in suspension, when the body of Noakes is found in the cellar and an investigation is launched to find the killer! The Wimsy’s are unwillingly drawn into the search for the criminal, all the while realizing that the murdered man was a blackmailer, miser and a crook himself and there is more than one person with reasons for hating the former owner of the farmhouse!

Dorothy Sayers in the very introduction of the book says that this is not a murder mystery but a romance, where a murder just happens! Well, it is true, it is a romance, but it also a mystery and it a well knit plot that caters to readers of both genre’s without the mush or the gore, respectively.  Her character’s drawn from a small village hamlet are created to perfection, with a scholarly kindly Vicar, a Superintend of Police trying to do what is best and the gossiping servant. Without playing to the cliche’s Ms. Sayer’s puts together an ensemble that is as brilliant as its life like! The plot is exciting with new twists and turns at every page and an absolutely ingenuous solution in the end!But more than the usual play of great characters and a wonderful plot line, there are some unique factors to this novel, that made it a outstanding read! The book is filled with literary allusions, from Shakespeare to Marlowe to Arnold, all of the greats of English Literature come into play and a marvelously knitted into the dialogues of the book. There are so many authors and poets I recognized and then so many I did not. This literary guessing game, added a whole new layer to the book! Even the title of the book is a colloquial assertion to a bus driver’s holiday – it refers to a  busman, to go off on a holiday, would take an excursion by bus, thereby engaging in a similar activity to his work. I quote directly from my trusty source Wikipedia. We do not rush into the mystery, but are treated to a long prologue of how the marriage happened, how did the relatives react and how the press was decoyed! Similarly, we do not rush out of the book after the culprit is caught, but rather, we are exposed to a human and moving experience of how Wimsey deals with the post investigative time, with allusions to his World War I trauma. The ending especially makes the book sensitive and absolutely unlike any other detective novel series!

In the end, I loved the book and have bought a couple of more Dorothy Sayer’s already. If you are looking for a hard boiled crime whodunit, this may not be the book for you. But if you are looking for a crime fiction, which looks at many other things and has relationships, and literature and fun, this IS the book for you!

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!

Murder and More in Victorian England

I have often heard that there is a time and a place for everything!! Apparently this holds true for books as well. Take the case of Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I had bought more than 3 years ago and only read it like couple of weeks ago as part of Classic Club’s Victorian Age Reading Event. The case was same with Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I had bought the book, well over a year ago after mention by Jane (She has till date never led me wrong vis-à-vis new authors!!! Thank You Jane!) But for one reason or another I did not read it till last week – again propelled by the Victorian Reading Event (Big Yay to Classic Club for always making me read what I should have read long back!!)

Now about Lady Audley’s Secret…..

The novel opens with the beautiful and extremely talented, albeit impoverished governess Lucy Graham making a great match and marrying Sir Michael Audley, Bart. Audley Court. The new Lady Audley is liked by all both for her beauty as well her child like behavior which endears her to everyone except her step-daughter Alicia, who till the arrival of Lady Audley had reigned supreme both over her father and his house. Parallel to these events, George Talboys is returning home to England after three years; he had been gold mining in Australia and had finally made his fortune after bitter struggle and was now looking forward to re-uniting with his lovely wife and child. On reaching London, he runs into his old Eton schoolmate and friend, Robert Audley, a young indolent barrister, who also happens to be the nephew of Sir Michael. The two friends catch up on each other’s lives and it is revealed that George Talboys who was the only son of a very rich Squire had married a beautiful but penniless girl, which had incensed his father, who had then disinherited him. George Talboys had then sold his Naval commission and left for Europe with his pretty bride and had spent some luxurious months, while the money from the commission lasted. However once the money ran out, the Talboys returned to England and settled down in a house, which they shared with his bride’s father. As money ran low, there were arguments and dissatisfaction among the couple, until George deserted his wife and new born son and left in the middle of the night to make his fortune. He now hoped that his beautiful wife would forgive him and they would now settle down to a life of happy domesticity and love. George Talboys plans are dashed when on he learns of his wife’s death a week before he reached England. Heartbroken and depressed beyond his depth, he makes Robert Audley the guardian for his son’s education – the little boy had lived with his grandfather and wants to set off to Australia again to bury his sorrow in the wilderness of the land, but falls ill. Robert Audley nurses him back and finally convinces him to take a trip with him to Russia. As George Talboy’s spirit and heath mend, Robert Audley takes him to Audley Court, which he visits annually during the hunting season. Robert always stays at his uncle’s place during the hunting season, but this year is turned away as Lady Audley is unwell and unable to act as a hostess to visitors. Robert Audley and George Talboy take up residence at one of the Inns near Audley Court and one day when Sir Michael and Lady Audley are out, convince Alicia to take them on a tour of the house. George Talboy comes back from this tour of Audley Court visibly disturbed, but by morning regains his composure. He and Michael decide to spend the day fishing and return to the Inn for dinner before taking the last train back to London. They settle themselves down for a day of peaceful fishing and Robert Audley falls asleep; George Talboy again restless gets up and starts walking towards Audley Court. When Robert Audley finally wakes up, he hurries to the Inn, thinking that George Talboy must have wandered off and the comeback for dinner per their agreement. But the innkeeper tells Robert Audley that George Talboy never came back to the Inn and the barrister soon discovers that no one has seen his friend; George Talboy seems to have disappeared from the very face of the earth on a balmy afternoon. Robert is not satisfied by the way the disappearance is treated by all including Talboy’s own father, and begins in earnest to search for his friend, by piecing together his life before he left for Australia. As he slowly gets nearer to the truth, he is torn between his duty and his loyalties and face the horrifying facts, that threatens to destroy everything he holds sacred.

The book written in 1862 discusses things that Henry James said “that ladies are not accustomed to know”. Written more than 160 years ago, the book is all about murder, treachery, blackmail and bigamy – things that could simply not be discussed in the polite Victorian circles during afternoon tea visits and often considered “racy”. Yet the book is marvelously well written, with a taut plot and with strong characters that do not let you rest, until you reach the last page of the book and naturally was a rip-roaring success that brought justified praise and recognition to Braddon. The characters are extremely well drawn out and it is they and not the events that propel the story forward. I could not warm to either Lady Audley or Alicia Audley but both their characters were extremely believable and their angst and actions are alike understandable, in the shadow of their past. Robert Audley is the quintessential Victorian hero, a bit sardonic, but intelligent and generous, whose loyalties are clear and conduct is always that of a gentleman. But my favorite cast in this ensemble was Sir Michael –the kind generous noble man, deeply in love with wife, sincere enough to know and face the truth and honorable in every conduct, even when the worst comes to his doorstop. The novel naturally being a mystery tale keeps you hooked, but there are these clever tricks where Ms. Braddon pulls an unexpected whopper that hits you as a reader and you are left thinking “Wow! That I did not see coming!” She does this judiciously and cautiously without descending to theatrics and manages a fine balance between a social commentary and a good read.

An awesome book…again one that I should have read long back!!

From a Different Heaven….

I  had heard a lot about Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones”. My sister was highly appreciative of it and it figured as a must read in many literary listings. Usually I am kind of slow on the uptake of new releases and I take practically a decade to find out that a particular book was “in”, about 10 years back. Yes! I kind of live in intellectual Stone Age! Besides a book that’s rated so high by all is many time such disappointments, that I am always hesitant to pick up anything cried up by one and all as “brilliant”.

Therefore with absolutely no expectation, but with a strongest sense of curiosity, I started reading “The Lovely Bones”. The narrative in itself very unique; starting in 1973, the story is told by 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who speaks from heaven, after she has been brutally raped and then murdered by her neighbor Mr. Harvey. From heaven she watches as her family tries to cope with first the unexpected disappearance of their eldest daughter, until the police confirm her death, despite not being able to find a body. She sees her family hoping that the police, and especially Detective Len Fenerman, try to find the murderer. She tells us how they had mistakenly tried to implicate Ray Singh of her murder, the boy who she liked and who liked her back, until he provides an iron cast alibi of attending a youth conference where there 6000 witness who saw him give a speech. She watches as her family starts falling apart, her Lindsey left to cope in school as the girl whose sister was murdered and her father who becomes obsessed with the firm notion that his neighbor, Mr. Harvey had something to do with his daughter’s death. Her story follows the high and lows of Jack and Abigail Salmon, the growing up of Lindsey and Buckley and their efforts to find, retribution, peace, sanity and comfort, either individually or as a family to get a closure on the events that affected and changed the very design of their lives. She also lookout for Ray Singh, her first and only love, seeing him cope with her loss and then the false accusation, until he discovers a strength to be on his own with support of friends like Ruth Conners, a misfit, whom Susie’s spirit touches as she leaves earth and who like Ray, find their own unique comfort zone.

It is a beautiful book. Not to say it does not have flaws – there are places when the plot kind of drags and then suddenly it picks up steam. There are parts which kind of seem very far-fetched and borderline hocus-pocus like when Susie returns to take over Ruth’s body temporarily. However over the entire book is marvelous. The characters are all very well drawn and their actions more than descriptions draw you out and while, you may not understand all of their feelings, you cannot help feeling empathetic for them. My favorite naturally was Jack Salmon and Lindsey Salmon – in both Ms. Sebold had created two strong characters that like all human being fail at times, but have the great capacity to rise and live not only for themselves but also for the ones they love. Lindsey especially comes across as one bold, sassy and wonderfully heartwarming creature. The supporting cast is equally good – you love the falsely implicated Ray Singh, with his sensitivity and brilliance; his lovely and fiercely protective mother, Ruth, the haunted girl who tries to understand the voice of Susie and Mr. Harvey! In a clear departure from the usual narratives, Ms. Sebold manages to show a humane side of a rapist/murderer. She brilliantly manages to show his past that shaped his character without excusing his actions or even forgiving them. This fine balance is one of best feats in such genre as this book and rarely have I ever read a book where a character like Mr. Harvey is left without being too white or black or too grey – he is shown as what he is – a rapist and a murder who had a difficult and tumultuous childhood. This is stroke of genius. The plot is engaging and keeps you hooked, and you cannot rest in peace until you have read the end. There are some wonderfully picturesque description of Pennsylvania and later California. I really like the imagined heaven of the author – a heaven which is unique to each, filled with everything one desires expect the presence of the loved ones, still residing on earth!! It a vivid, life-like, delightful and believable place without the traditional and oft-repeated idea of a place with angels and their wings and golden harps and all of that!! Ms. Sebold, beautifully captures the loneliness and the sense of isolation that attends to each family member after such an event. She captures how as humans we try to cope in our unique way, failing, falling, running, until we find our closures, our peace.

It is without doubt, one of the most beautifully written books!!!

The Ripping Reads….

I finally finished two of my RIP IX reads and considering both are masterpieces and everything that could be said has been said about them. Therefore I thought of doing a short combined post on both the books and instead of doing the usual reviews, I thought I will just share some observations that have now stuck me, after my re-readings!

The precedence as always goes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, featuring the greatest of all fictional detectives, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. The book begins with Dr. Watson trying to convince Holmes to give up his use of cocaine and other such substances with Holmes replying that these are the only stimulants that keep his brain active, in the absence of work. This conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Miss Mary Morstan , a young genteel woman, who has been employed in the capacity of a governess and whose regular life has been disturbed by a note which asks her to meet a certain person that evening at six, along with two of her trusted friends, so that a great wrong that has been done to her can be righted. Miss Morstan also reveals that her father had been a Captain in the British India army and posted at Andaman Islands, from where he returned about ten years ago. He then wrote a letter to his daughter, who at time was in a boarding school, asking her to join him in London; that was the last she ever heard of him and he had since disappeared. Finally she states that for the last 6 years, she has received an expensive pearl anonymously. She then requests Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to accompany her in the evening to meet the man who wrote to her. Thus begins, the adventure of the Sign of Four, taking the reader from the fogs of London, to Cumberland, to Agra and the Andamans, in search of treasure, truth and in a very non Conan Doyle style, love. It’s a great mystery and the art of scientific deduction is wonderful to read – it makes one wistful and wish that if only one could think logically and deductively as a habit and at all the times. The narrative style is as always in a memoir of Dr. Watson and for once, some of the ending is given away, with allusions to what happened in future. However this does no harm to story in itself and it is a thrilling and nail biting narrative to read (especially the steam boat chase chapter) which has not lost even a tenth of its shine, since being published in 1890. Like I said, I can say nothing more about the novel than what has not already been said and shared; but this time two items stuck me as, well, a bit non-palatable. One was the portrayal of Mary Morstan, sweet, gentle, supportive, fragile, disdaining treasure for the sake of love – I mean Ye!! Gods!! Help me from such virtuous role models; for that’s exactly what she is – a model of ideal womanhood from Conan’s point of view. I know allowances need to be made for that particular time and the social-political rules that governed the society; but Victorian era produced a number of strong women who would disdain any namby pamby portrayal of their characters – these were women of blood, sweat, substance and strength, and while possessing a lot of compassion, they also were practical and sensible. I mean, England was ruled by such a woman at that time, not to mention, other wonderful women like Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Fry. This concept of the ‘household angel’ was enough to throw me off the book, and I cannot believe that I had been so oblivious to this angle during my earlier reads! Sir Conan Doyle wrote of a much better woman, at least vis-à-vis character in Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia“– who is intelligent, loyal and practical to a T! Hard to believe the same man wrote about Mary Morstan. The other item that hit me was the portrayal of non-whites – whether it is Mohmet Khan planning a cold-blooded murder or Tonga the indigenous tribal from Andaman, the natives can kill with no conscience, the only redeeming characteristic being their loyalty! Thank Heavens for that!! I mean as it is the brown man/woman are “savages” but imagine the greatness and generosity of Englishmen, in inspiring loyalty among this unworthy people!! Kipling was a unaplogetic and unashamed imperialist, but to think Sir Conan Doyle also sang a similar tune, is kind of unsettling; as I mentioned before allowance have to be made for the age and I do, but with Kiplings, and Doyles and Haggards, at times, it becomes difficult not to be prejudiced! Everything apart though, it is a great book and Sir Doyle does what does the best, proving time and again he is the master of “detective fiction”.

The second book that I read for RIP IX is “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. I had originally read this novel when I was 15, through the night, when I was racked with fever and could not sleep. I had deep impressions from that read – all very gothic and creepy. The story is too well-known from me to write in detail – Maxim De Winters, the owner of the Manderley, an estate on the Cornish Cost, brings home a young wife after the accidental death of his first wife Rebecca, in a boating accident, a year ago. The second Mrs De Winter, is a young, shy woman who has great hopes of her future, that come to standstill, as she grapples with the presence of Rebecca in Manderley, whose presence is overwhelming and who continues to run the house from her grave! It could be that fever had induced my brain to be more sensitive, because, when I had read this book the first time I had felt the terrifying presence of Rebecca, I was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and I felt all the apprehensions and illogical fears of the second Mrs. De Winters. I should have waited for another bout of fever, before re-reading this book! I know people rant and rave about this book and I may be offending half a million readers if not more, but only a teenager, with really low self-esteem can like this book! My whole problem with the book is the second Mrs. De Winters – I can understand being shy and I can empathize with the feeling of being left out and not belonging, but Mrs. De Winters made me want to throw up and throw the book at her. She does not even try; for heavens’s sake, she is not even willing to try. She goes around the house like a mouse, when she has no reason to, and is perpetually afraid of Mrs. Danver who is just a big ol’ bully who should be set in her place. She does not even try to manage the house or stake her claim as the mistress – had she tried and then failed, that would have added a complex layer to the narrative, besides adding on to her oh-i-am-so-scared characterization. She is embarrassed in the presence of Mrs. Van Hopper, she is embarrassed with Maxim and she is embarrassed when Mrs. Danver finds her in East Wing! Mrs. Van Hopper is embarrassing and it could be that the second Mrs. De Winters’s initial life may have been a trial, but as Jane Austen had showed us, that one can still act sensible in presence of distressing environs; case to point, Elizabeth Bingley with Mrs. Bingley as a painful dimwitted loud mother or Jane Fairfax with her poor, silly aunt. But of course, no understanding of self-worth, enters the poor little Mrs. De Winters’s head until her lord and master, declares his undying love her and confesses that he never loved Rebecca – I mean what value do we women have unless, it is to be made worthy by the acceptance of the man. Also let’s not forget, that the Lord and the Master is a great man of courage and forbearance, who can murder to save his family name from infamy but cannot divorce for the fear of scandal. Such wonderful choice makes this declaration of love, even more touching; after all who can resist the love of a cowardly soul, who cannot face the truth; no matter how far he would have to go hide it. Only by such love, can one make herself a complete woman!!! By such standards, I should really consider myself an absolute failure and consider becoming a nun!!!! The redeeming feature of the novel, really are the last 100 pages as the body of Rebecca is discovered, and the mystery unfolds to an unexpected and unbelievable climax. This is where Ms. Du Maurier revealed her exceptional brilliance and expertise of her craft and as a reader; you are left breathless and shocked by the sudden twist of the tale!! It is this end, which makes the book in my view a classic and preserves it from the morbid and irritating presence of Mrs De Winter, the second! I never realized how disgusted I was with this novel, until I wrote this piece! Writing I guess is therapeutic!

I know this is one of my longest posts, but I cannot end, without once again urging all of your help in the Indiegogo Crowdfunding project which I am managing. We are not doing that well and your help would really make a difference. Again, there are a couple of ways to support this cause –

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