The Story of being Under the Net

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!

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The Story of a Moonstone

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

Moonstone Wilkie Collins, #moonstone, #wilkiecollins #bookedfor100
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The Story of a Hitchhiker and the Galaxy

… 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 AdamsThe 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.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, bookedfor100, blog about books, #bookedfor100, #douglasadams #HitchhikersGuidetotheGalaxy #HGTTG
Somewhere in the middle of the book, you find a statement like this…
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, bookedfor100, blog about books, #bookedfor100, #douglasadams #HitchhikersGuidetotheGalaxy #HGTTG
… followed by this
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The Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities is a story set during the French Revolution when the oppressed common folk could no longer withstand the apathy of the ruling class and took over the castle and imprisoned everyone who seemed affluent. The latter’s fault being that they were not poor. The charges being that, for generations, they did nothing to better the lives of everyone around them. The accusations being that they abused, physically and mentally, the poor. All those who faced these charges were thrown into the prisons and sentenced to death, with no formal hearing or justification. To be executed. In public. By the strike of the guillotine christened as La Guillotine – a symbol of their freedom. Execution soon becomes the need of the hour, feeding La Guillotine with hundreds of heads becomes the only thing they look forward to every day. Human nature takes a beating. Society as a whole takes a beating.

When humans are suppressed for a long long time and are treated as nothing less than animals, they become that. In fact, they become worse. No sympathy, no law of the land, no compassion, no conscience and most importantly no forgiveness.

And in between this rises a story of love.

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A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is a satirical novel about young teenage boys who go on an orgy of violence for the sheer thrill of it and get caught by the state but are ‘reformed’ in a questionable manner. Like a character ponders,

Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? 

The novel is split into three parts – His violent escapades, his prison life after he is caught and sentenced for 14 years and his life after he has been ‘reformed’ as part of an experiment. The story starts with a bunch of teenage boys led by Alex, the most deranged of them all, setting out on a series of bludgeoning, fights, brutal rapes, thefts, destruction of property, and other such acts of violence just as a way of entertainment. On one such night he gets caught in the act and is sentenced to a lifetime of prison. There however he puts up an act of goodness and is chosen for an experimental reforms programme led by the government. Though seen by him as an escape route to get back to his life and its thrills, after the programme he becomes incapable of enjoying anything, even music that he unabashedly loved. Is such a life worth it? Can a criminal so mentally disturbed be ‘cured’? You begin to wonder.

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The Story of a Beloved

A masterpiece. Oh it is a masterpiece!

Toni Morrison in Beloved tells us the story of a slave family during the times when slavery was being abolished; when they’ve lived such a life and didn’t know how to live otherwise or are still living in the aftermath of what they went through. A time, when legally slavery was done with, but society still had a long way to go in terms of realigning ideologies.

Subtle realities hit you in the passing. Brutal realities. Things that happened to them, choices they had to make, blatant hypocrisy they had to accept as normal, everything hits you. When one of the characters talks of freedom as

“To get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire. That was freedom”

You begin to realise how deprived they were.

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The Story Of The Animal Farm

Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of the two scariest books I have read. The other being another novel by the same author which I will be writing about later on. Coming back to this one. Scary. Yes. That is the word. But it isn’t a horror story. Nor a thriller. Or a murder mystery.

It is pure and simple facts. A reality that is so bare and true that it scares the hell out of me every time I read it. Published in 1945, this story can be seen playing out for real even now.

Animal Farm is the story of a farm where the animals feel suppressed by the Humans who own the farm and make them toil but don’t given them their labour’s worth of food and rest. So they decide to revolt against the owners, take over the farm and demonstrate how it should be run. With dreams of equal rights and benefits and a bright future, the set out to achieve the same.

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The Story of The Magic Faraway Tree

A children’s fantasy novel like you’d expect from Enid Blyton, though this is the first fantasy work of hers I’ve read. There have been The Famous Fives and The Secret Sevens and the Malory Towers and the like but all of those were real people so to say.

The Magic Faraway Tree is nothing like that. An adventurous tale where three siblings, Joe, Beth and Franny, take their cousin Rick to a magical tree in the forest behind their home which houses strange characters such as Moonface (who obviously has a face as round as the moon), Silky (a pretty little fairy), The Saucepan Man (who is covered in kettles and pans and is short of hearing thanks to the noise his vessels make), Dame Washalot (an old lady who loves washing), Mr. Watzinaname (the perfect nobody character) and The Angry Pixie (name says it all). Together these  embark on a journey that start with them climbing up the tree into the clouds. The tree serves as the pathway into the different mysterious Lands atop clouds which station themselves on the tree every few days.

And the fun begins.

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The Story of Two Lovers and Mahatma Gandhi

To say that I went into this book with zero expectations wouldn’t be completely untrue. Titled ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ this book didn’t really boast of a great plot. However, what intrigued me was why then was this chosen by Goodreads as one of RK Narayan’s best work. There is a flavour to his writing which I hoped would see me through what otherwise seems like a plain old story – a coming of age story of a boy who is fascinated by a girl, during the freedom struggle era, complete with Mahatma Gandhi actually appearing in the novel as a significant character and not just an imaginary idol.

Like I said, there is a style of writing that I expected from RK Narayan that would see me through this novel. A la ‘swami and his friends’ mode where you blissfully follow their tales in the land of Malgudi.

Treat this book like you would a new writer’s and you’d be able to see the beauty in its simplicity. The absolute truth that it represents. The real scenario of the impact of India’s freedom struggle on the common man. Common folk who led otherwise normal lives far removed from the play of politics at the centre. For whom The British were just another king who ruled their lands. One they did not see, but whose rules they lived by.

And that probably must have been the reality of hundreds of villages in our country during those times.

Set in the backdrop of such a village is our protagonist – Sriram, who though old enough, is not really mature or serious about life. Then comes in Bharati, a freedom fighter working in Gandhi’s camp, a girl who captures his attention and then begins our story. How he slowly understands Mahatma Gandhi’s words and becomes involved in the freedom movement, all in the effort to impress her forms the rest of the story.

The base plot is cliché. But somewhere behind this story, RK Narayan has drawn out a picture of the other side of India. The unexpected undertones of characters is what you begin to take note of. It is the Indian Sarpanch who takes advantage of the simple village folk whereas a British landowner who has been living in India all his life is the one providing for employment to thousands of people in his plantation. Shopkeepers who sell English biscuits don’t see anything wrong it since it is afterall only a commodity, while people carrying on the fight are often thought to be nuisances who disrupt every gathering with their speeches.

Booked for 100, #bookedfor100, #waitingforthemahatma, #rknarayan

I guess India is too large a country for each and everyone to be influenced by the need to fight for his own freedom.

And yes, Mahatma Gandhi DOES appear. As a central character. Who the lovers consult with. Whose orders they follow. The real speaking leader. Which I found amusing.

If you can get past the beginning of the novel (which incidentally took me 2 weeks a lot of determination), you will not be disappointed. It isn’t his best work, but RK Narayan definitely doesn’t disappoint.


Photos: Remya Nair



The Story of Ten Strangers

The first thing you’ll notice about Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is the author’s note. I rarely read the author’s note. Rather read it after I finish the novel just to see what was going on in their head when they wrote it. But in this case, the note is so short, so crisp and so surprisingly honest that one can just not avoid it. A rare occurrence where the author has been so pleased with herself and has actually gone a step ahead and mentioned it in the author’s note, the absolute thrill she feels in having put to words such a complicated plot.

And what a plot it is.

A book that I finished in one sitting, after long. Of course it is Agatha Christie. So it will be a nail biter till the end, but And Then There Were None is a nail biter even after you finish the book. You are just left stunned at the brilliance of the plot. The perfection of the storyline. And the identity of the killer. A clue which doesn’t spring up till almost the end when a small detail is revealed. The book doesn’t just elaborate a murder mystery but also dwells on the intricacies of the human mind and the transformations in their behaviour caused by the changing situation around them. The slow manner in which each human slowly turns into an animal with only one skill heightened – the need for survival.

The novel starts with a series of character introduction making you want to grab a pen and write down their names and background lest you miss a clue somewhere. Yes, knowing the author, you automatically don a Sherlock Holmes hat. Trust me, you might as well leave it aside. No amount of being alert from the start prepares you for the end.

The ten strangers are called upon a millionaire’s island and forced to stay there for a few days owing to bad weather. Things take an ugly turn when one of them gets murdered in the very first night and then the drama begins. A search to find the killer, the need to trust each other while at the same time being suspicious, the slow piling up of dead bodies and a last ditch attempt to save oneself; the situation only gets more confusing. As the plot unveils itself, the devil within comes out and the least likely suspect obviously turns out to be the criminal.

It is so evident why she loved the book. She should. Anyone would feel proud of themselves. This is the kind of masterpiece that would make even a seasoned thriller author feel like it is their best work. Even someone as accomplished as Agatha Christie.

Booked for 100, #bookedfor100, #agathachristie #andthentherewerenone

I guess there comes a point in every artist’s life when they realise that the work they just completed is the best that can ever come out of them. Something that surpasses their own expectation. Something that makes them lay down their tools and say, “I am done.” They may choose to continue their work or stop right there, but they will know in their heart that it can never get better than this. Artists tend to like all their work, some more than the others. But there is always one work, one piece of art, that surprises them. That makes them its fan. The one piece which is their ultimate work. A moment that every artist dreads and craves for at the same time.

And I quite imagine Agatha Christie smiling smugly after going through the manuscript, sipping her cup of tea, looking out of the window and saying to herself, “You’ve outdone yourself, my girl.”

Pick up And Then There Were None, finish it in one sitting, and don’t bother about the cup of coffee; You won’t find time to sip it.

Booked for 100, #bookedfor100, #andthentherewerenone


Photos: Remya Nair


The Story of Mort

Terry Pratchett is an author whose works I haven’t read, and I must admit, regrettably so, wasn’t even aware of. This whole reading acclaimed authors/books is turning out to be an interesting exercise and I am only at my fourth book. A whole 96 more to go.

Getting back to novel no.4, Terry Pratchett’s Mort was shall I say a surprise. I went into this one with zero expectations but expectations have a strange tendency to create a range between good and bad and when you say zero you intend a neutral stance. You never, however, account for emotions such as surprise in that frame. And that is precisely what this book does to you. Throws out the whole frame and all you knew about expectations right out of the window.

Surprised? Flabbergasted is more like it. And by what you might ask. Well, humour. Yes. Humour. Not the in your face Ha Ha jokes or comic situations, but a blast of wit that hits you out of nowhere like that crazy little pup you just bumped into when you turn around the corner of an otherwise mundane street on an otherwise mundane morning. You jump. You are startled, and you find yourself laughing at your own silliness. Pretty much sums up the interjection of humour in this book. An odd joke or two creeps up at the most unexpected places. Not in a conversation, not a punchline at the end of a chapter, but just some random sentence bang in the middle of a character’s thoughts. Humour writ with wisdom, making it the funniest combination possible. Reminds me a lot of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But that’s an epic for another day.

Mort by Terry Pratchett, Booked for 100, #bookedfor100, #mort, #terrypratchett

Mort is part of the author’s Discworld Series. The Discworld is an amazingly whimsical way of looking at the world we know. A flat world that rides on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle Great A’Tuin and which is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space. Mindblown at the picture this creates in your head? This is only the beginning.

Mort is the story of an otherwise clumsy fellow, whose behaviour doesn’t fit into the confines of a traditional way of being, and who soon finds himself employed as the apprentice of the oddest of employers – Death himself. And thus begins his adventures in this job and a realisation of how things look from up above or for that matter from beyond.

Throw in a place where time stands still, a name that no one remembers to call him by, a botched up errand, a bunch of wizards, a lonely daughter who surprisingly knows too much, a queen who should’ve been dead but isn’t, a kingdom in chaos, history busy trying to correct itself, reality trying to stitch the lines and Death trotting off on a vacation because he, of all people, is feeling low, and you would have what I call a weekend full of excitement, unpredictability and loads and loads of laughter.

Caution, read this at a place where you suddenly laughing out loud doesn’t necessarily draw unwanted attention or the occasional shush! Not that it bothered me. I was way too deep inside the Discworld.

Taking a line out of the book, May you also be able to see Octarine, the Eighth colour of the spectrum, the colour of magic, the pigment of imagination. Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting Mort by Terry Pratchett.


Photos: Remya Nair



The Little Girl and her Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett, in her book The Secret Garden’, paints a pretty picture of the ‘English moors’ complete with a hundred room Manor, Yorkshire country folk and their queer accents and the gardens and orchards that surround those lands. For someone who hasn’t been to such a place, it does set the imagination wild.

But, this book isn’t what I’d call a children’s novel, (not little kids, atleast). Nor does it have an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ charm to it, which I expected (it to have) what with it being a story of a little girl who discovers a whole new world when she chances upon the buried keys to a secret garden shown to her by a bird. Familiar much?

What it does do however, is take you through the transformation of a little sickly girl, who hated people and was miserable, into this bright spirited healthy kid as she tends to her secret garden and watches in wonder as the grass grows and the flowers bloom. The garden slowly comes to life, much to the thrill of this child, and so do the lives of two other inhabitants, of that Manor, who had given up hope altogether.

Booked for 100, #bookedfor100, #thesecretgarden

Hope, I think is what this book is about. Hope and a childlike way of dealing with problems. For even though it is a plain story, the writing makes you so involved, that you find yourself rejoicing when someone with no hope of tomorrow suddenly exclaims,

“I’ll live forever and ever!”

Is it a sweet read. Yes. Is it something that should be in the top 100 all time must read lists. Not really.

Then again, not all great books are for everyone.

I think the popularity of this book lies in the fact that it was written by a female author in times when women weren’t considered to be proficient enough to earn their bread.

That said, do read it. If you find yourself with this book on a lazy afternoon, turn the pages and stroll through the beautiful countryside, breathe in the fresh spring air and be amazed by the secret garden so delicately detailed that you can almost touch it.


Photos: Remya Nair