Under the Net by Iris Murdoch is a story about a struggling writer Jake Donaghue who, over a few weeks (the period this story is set in), attempts to set right his life. When one wants to go ahead, one needs to rectify the mistakes of the past. One needs to close loose ends, make amends, give due apologies, and then if needed, break ties, to truly be able to move on. Jake attempts to do just that. But what follows in his pursuit of retrospective alteration is a series of hilarious situations, and some surprising revelations, leaving him at a lot different from where he started off or thought he would end at.
After being thrown out by his girlfriend, he goes about finding a new accommodation at his ex (who he strongly believes he still loves and is his destiny) and finds himself faced with an unavoidable situation of having to contact his arch-nemesis, who was also his friend at one point in time. From then on, we traverse through a series of happenings that never cease to take you by surprise.
Take it from me, throughout the novel, you will never be able to guess the turn each chapter takes!
A murder mystery, a calmly wild game of cat and mouse, making you constantly guess who the killer is. A story of love and betrayal, manipulations and jealousy, human nature tested at every twist of fate but most importantly, very real. And all this is set in a dreamy world of painters and storytellers of ancient times when kings ruled the land and beauty was measured in time.
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish novel translated into over 60 languages, English being one of them. It is everything you could ask for, for a thrilling reading experience. Teenage lovers being reunited later on in life, check. Cold blooded murder and then some more, check. Deceit, betrayal and all that comes with the politics of business, check. Kings and kingdoms with its fascinating quirks, check. A run down through history that shaped the nature of events in the story, check. Insight into the deep yet twisted workings of the human mind, check. Dwelling into what truly drives our actions, check. And a justification for each action, good or bad, check.
What makes this book marvellous is not the fact that it actually has in it all the essential tropes of a good story, but the way in which it is told. Orhan Pamuk has used the first-person reference throughout the novel and taken it a step further.
In Of Human Bondage, William Somerset Maugham tells a story of a young man who spends his life trying to find his true calling. We traverse through his life in his own words, seeing it as he did, through the eyes of a young orphaned child living with his uncle who is a vicar and wants him to follow in his footsteps, to the man he finally becomes.
This young boy moves out of his uncle’s house and to follow his passion or what he believed to be his calling. He finds some semblance in art but that doesn’t give him the life he wants. He takes up an interest in medicine and starts to study to be a doctor. Then he dabbles in the stock market and loses all his savings. Being absolutely broke he is driven to take up a job at a retail store but his special skills are noticed and he does well enough to sustain himself. Once stable, he sets out again.
Throughout all this, he makes some interesting friends who shape his thinking and open his mind to the wonders of literature and travel. His ultimate goal thus being formed of him being able to travel to Spain one day.
After a long break of not writing, an opportunity presented itself to me this summer.
A newsletter I follow and cherish, thealiporepost organised their own poetry writing event in the month of April where writers all over the world participate in what is called the National Poetry Writing Month or NAPOWRIMO for short. The idea is to write a poem everyday for a whole month. The newsletter came up with a set of prompts and I sat down to write poems.
All the poems I have written before this have been expressions of something personal – a person, an incident, an emotion, a moment or a thought. Writing about a bunch of random words was something I didn’t think I could do, and frankly was the bigger challenge than writing every day.
But words, your own or somebody else’s, are like magical spells. They open up windows in your mind and bring out memories and emotions that your pen can’t wait to jot down.
And thus came to being my little poetry collection of 25 poems written in April 2020.
Have I been missing for over a year now? Yes. Have I been reading all this while? No.
To cut a long story short, I have been busy growing a human. Yes. Most of 2019 has been a good year for me. Though an absolute disaster in terms of the reading I was meant to do.
I’d been warned to finish as much as I could because the last thing I’ll have time for once the little one is out, would be a book and peacefully at that. And for once, everyone is right. For a large part, that is.
Reading peacefully may never happen in the near future, but reading still can.
I’ve realised now that even though my priorities have changed and I can no longer schedule my day like before, some things can’t be completely done away with. Passion especially. They just take a step back. And sooner or later you’ll figure out how you want to do what you love doing if you truly love doing it.
Maybe I cannot read for hours at a stretch, cuddled up on my sofa, sipping my coffee, with an occasional glance out of the window.
Maybe my reading time will be limited to short bursts of stolen minutes sitting on the floor next to the crib with a milk stained t-shirt and the bare wall to rest against.
This will have to do for now.
For, to be me, Amidst all this chaos, to be me, Into a book I’ll need to dive.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a heart-wrenching story of two boys Amir and Hassan, set in the backdrop of a changing Afghanistan with the overthrow of their government and the growth of the Taliban Regime, and how their lives are permanently changed because of being born in such tumultuous times.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is a story of two workers who travel together in search of work, mostly farming, in the hinterlands of America. This is however not a story about their times or their hardships or the lives that they and millions of other lowly paid workers like them led. It is rather a touching story of brotherhood and broken dreams.
The title tells you nothing about what the book entails, yet when you finish it, you realise that there couldn’t have been a more apt name.
A novella that has just a few sequences in it spread across just a couple of days, the arrival of the two workers – George and Lennie – at the farm, them working, them talking of their dreams, a series of unfortunate events and finally the end. That’s it. A book that doesn’t take you too long to finish but stays with you long after.
“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”
All human relationships come down to it. Would you save my life? Or Would you take it?
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is set in a time in America, when even though slavery was abolished, the coloured people led a life far from being free or fair. They didn’t get justice like the whites did, nor were they treated equally, still barred from entering certain places or buying property. What was theirs was being taken from them by the whites just because the latter didn’t believe that the former deserved it, especially and only because of their colour.
At such times was born Macon Dead, the protagonist of this story
who lives a rather privileged life being the grandson of the only Doctor in
their clan and son of a wealthy real estate businessman. The book is about
Macon’s life, of his lack of empathy towards ‘coloured
people problems’ because he hasn’t had to face any, his disinterest towards his
own history or the relevance of it in his life, his inability to understand why
the people around him – his father, his mother, his sisters, his aunt, his
lover or his best friend – are the way they are, always angry within, always
seeking some form of justice. He isn’t stupid. He is just your regular unsympathetic
At first glance Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol, is a magical tale where a young girl Alice, bored out of her wits on a hot summer day, spots a rabbit talking to itself and carrying a pocket watch. Now there may be many a rabbit who can talk, but carrying a pocket watch, now that piques one’s interest. So off she goes following the rabbit down a rabbit hole and thus begins her adventure.
What follows her fall down the rabbit hole is a fascinating turn of events leading to many a crazy character, conversation and situations. People/animals/birds she never thought she’d encounter like this, questions that puzzle her more than the answers do, reactions she never fathomed, all makes this Wonderland a curious place to stumble upon.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
There is only so much I can add to all that is written about Charles Dickens and his famous novel A Christmas Carol, a story that has apparently never been out of print since its first edition in the late 1800s. One can only aim of such success. So what is it that makes this novel so special. In one word, I’d say, relatability.
We are introduced to a grumpy old rich man Ebenezer Scrooge, who despises people, pleasantries, cheer, charity and frankly anything and everything related to being a good human. He doesn’t hurt anyone but is the personification of stinginess and unpleasantness. One day he is visited by the ghost of his dead friend and partner, who seems to be chained by the bad deeds that he did in his lifetime and is forewarned that he will be visited again by three ghosts. These are the ghosts of Christmas – Past, Present and Future.
Moonstone, written in the early 19th century by Wilkie Collins is a detective story where instead of a detective solving the crime, it’s the readers who discover the thief through a series of narrations. A very interesting way to put it. And quite skillful too
The plot starts with how the Moonstone comes into the hands of a Colonel, through a series of plunder of the Hindu temples that happened during the 600 yr rule of the Mughals and British in India. It then talks of its journey to England and there it is bequeathed to the Colonel’s niece during her 18th birthday. She receives it on her birthday dinner but the following day, it is found to be missing. Who stole it, How did it find its way out of the house into a banker, Who then recovers it, forms the rest of the plot
… This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And that’s how this book starts. A mad mad book. Absolutely hilarious and with a logic so warped that you give up on it, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy sci-fi adventure novel (if there is such a genre in the first place that is) that redefines all three – comedy, sci-fi and adventure.
It starts off with our hero, Arthur Dent, being whisked away by his friend Ford Prefect (who is in fact an alien who is desperate to get out) onto a spaceship minutes before his house and all of Earth for that matter is demolished to make way for an Intergalactic Highway. Imagine being so insignificant that the entire planet is nothing more than a boulder to be pushed out of the way in the whole scheme of events in the universe. Puts individual problems into perspective.
Moving on, Arthur Dent finds himself in this spaceship with another human being and a two headed President of the Galaxy who is on the run for stealing the very spaceship they are in. Together with a depressed robot (yes, depressed robots. You’d be depressed too if you are made to do menial tasks like bringing tea when you have the brain with a functioning capability of a planet) they set out on a journey to find, well, with no particular purpose at all.
And this madness is only the beginning. What follows is not just a plot that beats all the obvious predictions you can make as a story unwinds, but also a style of writing that leaves you part laughing part snickering at the turn of every page. Dry wit. At its best. Douglas Adams is my absolute favourite when it comes to humour and creativity. Read him once and you’ll know why he has the cult following that he does.