Archive for the ‘My Bibliophilia’ Category


never-let-me-go

I am doing this update primarily because I have been forced into it, courtesy my sister. This book was suggested to me by one of my friends who’s judgement on books I defer to. Well, usually. The cover said ‘Never Let Me Go’ and there was a photo of a girl, presumably dancing. I detest romantic novels with a religious fervour. And well as far as first impressions were concerned, I had to consume a bucket of salt to actually get myself to read the book. That I got blown over by the book is an understatement.

The story revolves around Kathy H, as she grows up in the enigmatic boarding school known as Hailsham House. As usual, Kazuo Ishiguro plays with his forte, which are strong character building and relationship dynamics. You can see that he focuses mostly on Kathy and her relationship with her friend Ruth and her longtime love interest Tommy. My last sentence with “her friend Ruth” and “her longtime love interest Tommy” would be a simplification because with Kazuo Ishiguro things are never that simple. Not that I’m complaining.

He follows the life of Kathy and her friends – Ruth and Tommy from their childhood. They grow up, as the book progresses, and so does the reader; as they learn about the dystopian Britain that Ishiguro is depicting through the eyes of his protagonist. As they grow up trying to figure out the mystery surrounding Hailsham House, their teachers and the outside world, they must contend with each other as people get progressively complicated, thereby affecting their relationship with each other. I could describe what kind of people Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are and how they affect the other, but to do that would be sacrilege seeing that that is exactly what the book is all about. The plot on the other hand is simple. As the main characters grow up, they come face to face with their fate and whether they can change it is something that they must find out.

The book belongs to what they say coming-of-age genre, something that’s explored in many Japanese movies and books. Kazuo Ishiguro has done a masterful work with this one. ‘Never Let Me Go’ is a book with many layers. At every second page you’ll be re-evaluating your notion about a certain character. This gives a sense of realism and allows you to emotionally connect with all the characters in the book, even someone as annoying as Ruth. As I was going through the book I felt as if Ishiguro had been painting beautiful pictures with words, such was the vividness of his writing. There are scenes where you can’t but help conjure up images in your head and be haunted by it thereafter. I especially remember that scene where Kathy is dancing with her doll while ‘Never let me go’ by Judy Bridgewater is softly playing in the background.

That and the ending. I was completely floored. A lot of people have said that the ending was nothing special, but I confess that I nearly broke down.

This book is a gem of English literature and if you haven’t read it, you most definitely should. It’s a must-read. I haven’t read ‘Remains of the Day’ yet, but I’m already awed by Ishiguro. This book is one of those that should be on your bucket list.

 

The Bartimaeus Trilogy

Posted: May 3, 2011 in My Bibliophilia

As they say, wisdom can be obtained from unlikeliest of places. This was exactly what I was thinking as I stared at the author’s note in the last page of ‘Ptolemy’s Gate’.

The trilogy was suggested to me by a certain junior of mine who happened to be a die-hard Harry Potter fan. I don’t mean to say that the Potter series is not good or anything; just that seeing an entire generation of children grow up reading only HP series (and nothing else) yet calling themselves ‘avid reader’, there’s only so much trust you can place in their judgement. But reading this series opened my eyes. Before I picked up the Bartimaeus Trilogy, I had discarded the fantasy genre from my preferred list. Reading Tolkien, Rowling and C.S. Lewis had pretty much convinced me that the good old genre could no longer surprise or amuse me. This book proved me otherwise.

The story is basically the adventures (and misadventures) of a boy, called Nathaniel, and a djinni, who calls himself Bartimaeus, set in London in an alternate history. Magic is used freely, especially by magicians, who are, thus , powerful and rule over the commoners ( those who cannot use magic ). The author, Jonathan Stroud, brings about the narration primarily through the point of view of Bartimaeus, Nathaniel and a rebel commoner called Kitty Jones. Stroud is very careful in explaining the mechanics and the nature of the magic he introduces in his work. This was the first time that I was coming across such level of detail and I was completely floored. It wasn’t about simple wand waving and muttering of magical mumbo jumbos. There were delicate rituals involved, powerful enough to grant you fabulous fortune, but even the slightest mistake would simply leave a mess with a lot of you in it.

I have never come across such detail till Brandon Sanderson. That itself should endear itself to readers fascinated with magic. But thats not the clincher. its the characters. In Bartimaeus, the entire series finds the fulcrum which every good story needs. Bartimaeus’ dry, sardonic style is one thing that no one can ever forget. He is that one reason that you simply can’t put the book away. Nathaniel’s narrative reflects the working of the mind of a guy who wants revenge, power, glory and companionship all at the same time. His character would be the most rounded among the three main characters, constantly changing and maturing along the way. Kitty is an idealist rebel who wants to do good for the commoners by freeing them from magicians. Though she styles herself as a freedom fighter she learns it the hard way that the world has no place for idealists.

Though classified as children’s fiction, I really don’t see the ‘children’ in this, other than the fact that two of the three main characters are in their teens. But what with their dark humor and characters dropping dead left and right (unlike the “real children fictions”, where teenagers carry sword and wear armour, and most importantly – no one dies other than the bad guy and his minions), anyone can read this.

I suggest you grab a copy as fast as possible, you can’t say that you have gone through your teenage and haven’t read this one.

I don’t think that I am going to rate any books hence forth, especially in numbers. Seems rather immature.

Quicksilver

Posted: January 3, 2011 in My Bibliophilia

Like many other authors, Neal Stephenson was suggested to me, by my very good friend who refuses to be named. For all practical purposes, let us call him John. But for the record, John had suggested the book – Cryptonomicon, and not Quick silver. So one day, as am browsing through the book store in Bangalore airport (looking for a book to read over the flight), I stumbled upon this book. I was in the mood to try out a new author and Quicksilver is a historical drama (to those who don’t know, I have a weakness for period dramas….subject to conditions), so I picked it up.

Quicksilver is a part of a series of books which comprise “the Baroque Cycle”. The plot is set in around 1700s and spans Europe and the Americas. One thing that people should remember is that the hardback edition of the Cycle, is broken down to three books, first of which is Quicksilver. The paper-back version further breaks down the Cycle to eight paper-back editions, first of which is Quicksilver (the one I read) and is the first part of the hard-back Quicksilver. Confused? To put it more simply, I had read the first paper back book of the eight book ‘The Baroque Cycle’ series.

Quicksilver is primarily about Daniel Waterhouse, who is a natural philosopher, and the story is mostly told in the form of him reminiscing about his past. I pretty much fell in love with the book after I had read into the first chapter. Stephenson introduces tonnes of characters, some of them fictional and a lot of historical characters. I have never seen so many characters introduced into a story, and used so well. I have read books and drafts by authors when they have written stories based on an older age, and many times it has been so that something or the other – like speech, as a notable example – feels rather anachronistic. Stephenson, on the other hand, has been able to get over all that and (like one of the Greats) is at home describing a daily scene of Restoration-era England. The book is well paced and constantly hops around between Daniel’s past and present. But the coup-de-grace in the books is the author’s writing style. I loved the way the author used dark humour and witticism to paint a colourful picture of an age of uncertainty, political intrigues and a bit of Enlightenment thrown in. That and Stephenson’s habit of changing his narration style by occassionally shifting to Drama style, I actually liked it. And then the characters. The way Stephenson builds his characters, I loved them much like Rushdie’s “Enchantress of Florence”.

Truly, Quicksilver is one of the best books that I have read. I am desparately looking to lay my hands on the remaining seven books, so if you have them by any chance, do tell me!

In my opinion, Neal Stephenson would be the most underrated author of my generation. I was so completely blown over by the book, that I wondered how it was that I had never heard of Stephenson earlier. Unlike my other reviews, I will not grade ‘Quicksilver’.

All Hail Neal Stephenson !!

The Namesake

Posted: September 21, 2010 in My Bibliophilia

I am no stranger to Jhumpa Lahiri’s works. I had done a project on her Pulitzer Prize winning work – Interpreter of Maladies. But not being a stranger and being in love with her works are two different things. To say the truth, I was never a fan of plots thick with family drama or anything with even a slightest hint of it. But I am not writing about Interpreter of Maladies (to say the truth, I have forgotten most of it). I flicked this dusty copy of the Namesake off someone’s table, as I had nothing else to read. I don’t remember how I came about them, but most of my pre-conceived notions fell apart. The thing is that the story touches so many realistic issues and forces you to ponder over every decision one of the characters make.

The whole story revives mainly around three characters – Ashoke Ganguli, his wife Ashima Ganguli and their son, Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli. The story is about this Bengali family, starting their life in USA. Ashoke Ganguli is an MIT professor, has just moved to the US from India, with his bride Ashima. The Indian culture that they have been so acquainted with is so out of sync with the American culture, that Ashima has serious problems reconciling herself with the new way of life. They have a son, but they get into trouble, since unlike India, in America, the child’s official name must be declared when the mother is discharged. The boy is hence named Gogol, after Ashoke’s favourite Russian author. This is from where the story actually begins. I am of course not going to spoil it for you……….go read it, you lazy bastard! Jhumpa Lahiri has written a great story. Character development is obviously her strong point. The whole story deals with the issues (cultural shock for one) and the identity crisis faced by the young generations growing away from home, the ABCDs (American Born Confused Desi) as they are called.

As I said, character development has always been Lahiri’s forte. Every character in the story has been carefully explored first hand, and from the perspective of other characters too. We are made to feel sympathy for all her characters, even for the rebellious Gogol. It’s a tragic tale, with a sense of melancholy ever pervading the narration. The way Lahiri has explored the relationship between Ashoke and Ashima was the most beautiful part of the story (according to me, duh). You could describe it as Gogol puts it somewhere – ‘there is one love, but different ways in which one shows it.’

If there is one complaint about the book, it will be about Moushumi. Lahiri gets rid of an interesting character so suddenly, that I felt like she did it on an impulse. It was so darn abrupt, that I was like “……….what?”. That and the fact that the story drags in certain places.

I will give the book 3.75/5. It’s a must read book and Jhumpa Lahiri will be one of the most sought after Indian authors. Consider this, I don’t like to read the peculiar ‘Drama’ genre of books. This isn’t a peculiar book.

The Immortals of Meluha

Posted: September 11, 2010 in My Bibliophilia

The Immortals of Meluha. Written by Amish Tripathi. The best seller in fiction category in whichever bookshop I entered, whether it’s Crossword or Granth in Mumbai or Odyssey in Calicut. The book was obviously doing very well and its returns were going through the roof. Amish Tripathi, an IIM grad, is the poster boy of new Indian fantasy fiction genre. With its glossy cover and over-the-top reviews, I had been waiting to get my hands on it for more than half a year. But when I did….suffice to know that the excitement petered out.

The concept of the story is VERY promising. It’s about Shiva being an ordinary mortal and his adventures which end up promoting him to a mythical status, to be remembered as a God. Yup, interesting as hell. I was completely bowled over by the concept. A mortal immortalized as a God.

The story , which is set in 1900 BC, is about Shiva, who is the chief of the Tibetan tribe Guna. He is invited by the Kingdom of Meluha, who are looking for the legendary Neelkanth, the one prophesied be their savior. The Meluhan Kingdom is set about the Indus Valley Civilization, with Mohen jo Daro and Harappa both figuring among the list of cities in the book. The Meluhans call themselves Surya vanshis (i.e. of the Sun dynasty) and they are involved in a desperate struggle against their enemies- the Chandra vanshis (Moon dynasty). The story in most parts revolves around the Somras, an unstable drink which grants the Suryavanshis immortality and everlasting youth. The Chandravanshis seemingly seek to deprive their counterparts of Somras. Thus the two dynasties are caught up in a cycle of unending violence. Shiva is looked upon as the savior who shall put an end to this vicious cycle.

Very impressive concept indeed. But like so many books out in the world, the execution left a lot to be desired. A hell lot. the one thing that annoyed me the most was the element of fantasy introduced in the story. I love fantasy books. But in this case we are missing the purpose. The apparent purpose of the book as I had registered in my mind was the exploration of how Shiva, a mere mortal man, through his brave deeds was elevated to a legend and then ultimately to Godhood. The introduction of fantasy was rather annoying. Its like while trying to explain a fantastic mythology, you create another fantasy. If there has to be fantasy, then for Pete’s sake stick to the original one!

The narration of the story is fine in most places but it DID get oppressive in parts. For example where Shiva asks Nandi if they would eat in a “Brahmin restaurant”. A restaurant?!  I nearly gagged myself on that one. The author used a modern colloquial (and originally French) term to describe something that could be more appropriately referred to as an inn or perhaps a tavern. The story is filled with many such recurring anachronisms. Character development too was unimpressive. Shiva plays the role of a generic do-gooder hero, the one who means well but thinks that he is not actually a hero. Sati, the heroine, is the generic aloof, attitude wise i-shall-not-fall-for-you-type heroine who falls for the hero in the end any ways. There are no memorable characters in the story.

The expectation this story generated was immense. Perhaps this is why I am being this unforgiving. But fairly speaking, I expected better.

I will give the book 1.5/5. 1.5 for the concept that the author tried to execute, but failed. I much prefer Samit Basu’s Game World Trilogy.

The Running Man

Posted: September 6, 2010 in My Bibliophilia

After all the Ayn Rands, Michael Crichtons and other heavy weight authors, I surprised myself when I realized that I haven’t read a single stand-alone by Stephen King (I HAVE read through half of Dark Tower series though). So I jumped at Stein’s ‘The Running Man’ the moment I noticed it.

Stephen King had written the book under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. The story is set in a dystopian near-future world, not unlike ‘1984’. The gap between the rich and the poor is very wide and among the latter extreme poverty and virulent diseases are a common place. The public is pacified by providing ‘Free-vees’ (read ‘free TVs’) in which the Network held fatal gladiatorial games. The poor people would take part in those anyways despite the risks, as they were promised money and a life definitely much superior to the one they were leading. For the Network, it was a way to get rid of people it considered useless or dangerous.

One such show was “The Running Man”, which was one of the highest rated show. The Network usually chose applicants it considered as possible anti-national elements for the show. The show involved the participant to stay a fugitive for thirty days, in which the entire state machinery would use its entire power to seek him out. If found, the participant would be shot immediately, and if not then he would stand to win for himself more than a billion dollars. The catch was that no one had won the show. The best record was eight days.

The protagonist of the book- Ben Richards, driven by poverty and his daughter Cathy’s flu, signs up for the Games and is thrown into “The Running Man”. He would now have to fight against overwhelming odds to survive against a government which kills its own people for amusement, all the while getting help from the most unlikeliest of corners.

The story was paced very well, and I finished this in two sittings. The world as described by the author is very dark and haunting, and it sort of reminded me of ‘1984’. The book was generally decent and it met the ‘Stephen King standard’. But to say the truth, the author did not exactly pack a punch. I was never really dazzled or surprised by aspect of the story. The story WAS good but it hangs around expected lines.

I give the book 3/5. It’s a good one time read, not VERY engrossing, but it can keep your interest.

American Psycho

Posted: September 5, 2010 in My Bibliophilia

I came across the title when I saw the movie with the same name and based on the book itself. The lead was played out by Christian Bale…… but wait that’s not relevant…..whatever it is, I was intrigued (and rather confused) by the movie’s plot so I decided I would read the book.

The author of the book is Bret Easton Ellis, whom I confess I had never heard of before this. The story is set in the yuppie culture of the early 90s. It is about a young highly placed investment banker called Patrick Bateman (remember Norman Bates, from Psycho? I caught that one immediately) and his life, the whole story being narrated by Patrick himself. The first part of the story we come to know about the everyday life of Bateman, as he gossips with his colleagues, ogles at random “hard bodies” , goes to rave parties and fusses over music. The book is definitely a treat for music lovers as every now and then , Bateman goes on to give lengthy descriptions of different genres of music popular at the time, sometimes even describing a particular band or a song. The first part is thus mostly mundane, with Bateman giving only the slightest hint of the insanity that he is holding down beneath the surface.

As the story progresses, we see Bateman’s mask of sanity slowly slipping away. He starts giving in to his violent desires at whim, and shocks us as he randomly chooses his victims. The thing is, he “descends” into madness. It’s a slow process. At first, he shows some vestige of control, which weakens throughout the book. His treatment of his victims grows more sadistic and gory.

As the story progresses and Bateman is slipping, we can get a feel of it from his narration too. The world grows more and more bizarre. Bateman claims that he is being followed wherever he goes, despite evidence to the contrary. Also, he fills up an entire cross word puzzle with the words “bones” and “meat” and does not realize it. The concept of time in the story is confusing, as he keeps on mixing up his appointments and dates.

There is another element of surrealism in the fact that the characters keep on confusing people’s names. Bateman himself is many a times referred to as Marcus Halberstam.  This occupies quite some space in the book. Since it is his own narration, we can thus understand his madness, yet understand nothing of the world.

In my opinion, Bret Easton Ellis has churned out a classic. The first part of the book was rather boring, since the author describes mundane activities to quite some length. But as the story progresses, we realize that the first part gels well with the rest of the story. The author has attached a lot of importance to the whole process of Bateman’s descent into madness. It’s a slow process. At first he attaches some motive with his kills, like professional envy. But as the story progresses, he does it on impulse.

It was a brilliant book, a good story with an awesome narration. Kind of slow paced, but it goes well with the overall plot.

This story gets a 4.5/5 from me and if you are into psychological books then this one is a must read. It’s a psychological book though, not a psycho-thriller. Keep that in mind.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Posted: May 29, 2010 in My Bibliophilia

One fine day I decided that I was bored and would pick up the first book I would come across. And hence I ended up with ‘Gone, But Not Forgotten’ by Phillip Margolin.

Those who are familiar with Margolin’s work would know that he specializes in legal thrillers, half the time involving serial killers. This book, not surprisingly, is of the same genre.

The story is set in Portland and follows Betsy Tannenbaum, a criminal lawyer who had recently become famous as a feminist advocate. The world turns upside down after she is hired by multi-millionaire businessman Martin Darius. Young and wealthy socialites are being murdered and to nail the murderer, Betsy has to dig into her client’s horrific past.

Well, to say the truth, I was hoping for some detective job in the book. There was none. There was no clue finding, elementary deducting. Everything was done by interrogation and pulling out theories from the air. Oh, well. Was there any mystery? If the author was trying to prevent the reader from guessing the killer, then CONGRATULATIONS! He succeeded, by introducing the killer’s character when the book is nearly over….. sorry for the spoiler, I had to say this.

Nevertheless, coming to the pros. The book has a decent narration, jumping between Hunter’s Point in the past and Portland in the present. That, and a good pace. For all its shortcomings, it never drags anywhere. That would explain how I finished this book in one sitting.

OVERALL, I give this book 2/5. Sorry Mr.Margolin, I prefer your other books. Read this only if you have nothing else. As far as this book is concerned, its gone and forgotten.


This book was suggested to me by a good friend of mine, though, at first, I was reluctant since fantasy genre had nearly always let me down ( just so everyone knows, for me Tolkien is no longer “fantasy”, its mythology, epic) . But thanks to his good judgment, I did not miss a fantastic story.

The book is set in a dystopian fantasy world ruled by an empire called ‘the Final Empire’ presided over by a tyrant god known only as The Lord Ruler. The population is divided into Nobles and skaa. Needless to mention, the Noble minority are filthy rich, while the majority skaa are a poor and oppressed lot. Vin, a half-skaa street urchin, is chosen by Kelsier, a powerful and charismatic Mistborn, to be his disciple. (Mistborns are people who are gifted with wide ranging allomantic powers. What is allomancy? READ the book.)

Kelsier and his crew seek to overthrow one who has ruled the Final Empire like a God for hundreds of years in what seems like a bloody and impossible revolution. Vin has to struggle against her inner turmoil while fighting Nobles, Lord Ruler’s minions, Kelsier’s megalomania and even her own feeling’s for a handsome nobleman.

The book near entirely follows Vin in third person, and we come to know more and more about the world from her perspective. This is why childish notion of good and evil, which is strong at first, soon starts getting blurred as the story progresses. The author has paid a decent amount of space for character development. Resulting in rounded characters and this is about one of the things that I like most about the book. In nearly all of the fantasy books that I had read so far, there is a very sharp distinction between good and evil. This book is a raging debate on which is preferable, order and suppression or anarchy and freedom. The book is breathlessly paced which may not appeal to all, but I felt that it suited the story well.

The concept of magic in the book is ingenious and not some stupid harry potter-ish wand waving. Kudos to the author for thinking up such an amazing concept.

Moreover, the book is incomplete as far as the bigger story is concerned, and is followed up nicely by its sequels. Many questions are answered in the sequels so if you can’t understand something, hold your horses!

OVERALL, I give it a 4.5/5. It’s a gem of a fantasy novel and a must read. All hail Brandon Sanderson!

P.S. : don’t miss the beautiful cover design by Jon Foster.

Atlas Shrugged

Posted: May 27, 2010 in My Bibliophilia

This is the second book that I had read of Ayn Rand, the first being ‘the Fountainhead’. ‘The Fountainhead’ was a great book, so I had no qualms in picking up ‘Atlas shrugged’ despite its formidable volume.

‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a philosophical novel, as is the case with nearly all of Ayn Rand’s works. The philosophy which she presents in the book is very appealing.

The story follows Dagny Taggart, the Vice President of the railroad giant Taggart Transcontinental, struggling to live upto the legacy of her grand father. She realizes that most of her struggle is directed against her inefficient brother James, the president of the company, who indulges in gross nepotism and misguided charity at the expense of the company. He and his friends ‘in Washington’, hinder her in any plan that she seeks to execute. All the while facing a government bent on enforcing its control over the industry and restricting free trade. That and her race to find the mysterious John Galt, who was convincing all the bright and successful men and women to leave the rotten society and disappear.

Dagny Taggart could be said to be the protagonist of the story. Although the story’s theme itself revolves around John Galt, he does not make an appearance till we are half way through with the story. The main characters of this book are similar to the main characters of other novels by Ayn Rand. They are single mindedly devoted to their work and look down upon frivolities. They are something of “Code Heroes”. Though I will allow myself to say that in this book, they were more human than in The Fountainhead.

The philosophy that Ayn Rand describes through her work is called Objectivism and rational selfishness. It is a widely acclaimed and debated philosophy which she was the first to espouse.

Ayn Rand is a good author and she can capture the interest of the reader through most of the pages of the book, though I must say that it DID drag in places. One has to put effort to get through some of those parts. I also felt as if the author  has sort of lost the plot towards the end. The end was so suddenly fast paced, that it left me slightly disappointed. It seemed that Ayn Rand was seeking a quick end to her Magnum Opus.

Despite the sudden end, it was a good read. I found her philosophy very interesting. The story itself had an amazing concept.

OVERALL, I will give it a 4 / 5. Definitely one among the fifty books to read before you die.