Sunday, December 7, 2014

IT- Stephen King

I’m a confrontational writer. I want to be in your face. I want to get into your space. I want to get within kissing distance, hugging distance, choking distance, punching distance. Call it whatever you want. But I want your attention.
– Stephen King

A sense of loss is what looms heavy on me now, not even ten minutes having passed since that final page turned and the back cover revealed itself, virtually on its own. My mind, still reeling, still expecting the turn of yet more pages until it has had its fill of the tale (read-until I’m dead or dying) is proving itself incapable of saying goodbye to the characters who have spent their lives in front of me, all in the mere span of a month.

I am at an acute loss of words as well. I fear (I know) that I may never be able to express in its true sense, the helplessness that overcame me as the mammoth count of thirteen hundred pages dwindled down to a paltry dozen, then half a dozen, finally settling to one, this final page. But I must attempt to express it, before the innocence of instant reaction gets soiled by an overthinking brain and the abundant access it has unfortunately to overthought trivia.

Parting with The Losers Club feels like parting with my childhood friends; imagination and memories interspersed, making it difficult to spot one without the other. Their conflicts were mine during the time they breathed and chattered away inside my head. Their smiles, their laughter…mine too. Adieu to you all, I wave my hand at them as they go, some to their early graves, some back to their own lives that have not been set into words and which are, therefore, as good as death in the readers’ eyes. My heart sinks; I am completely aware that this is just goddamned brilliant writing, nothing else; yet my heart sinks as if I am parting with real people.

Derry, despite its violent, inexplicably violent history and its malevolent secrets seems dearer now then it was a couple of hundred pages into the book. The town that ‘It’ feeds on is real to me.

(‘It’ is real)

Derry could be any town. And as I think more about it, I am surprised to find myself nodding at the screen and saying it out loud- Derry IS every town.

(‘It’ is real)

Fear is food- Could it get any closer to reality than that? Fear is food. And there is so much to fear in Derry even when you discount the mutilated and lifeless bodies of children that are found afloat in gutters and sewers every other night, is there not? 

There is the passivity of people turning a blind eye that sends cold chills down your spine, to begin with; an almost surreal passivity the townsfolk nurture towards incidents that can only mean evil. The land reeks of such a terrifying past, its foundation stones made of dried blood, rotting skulls and melted bones.

And then there is Robert Gray or Bob Gray a.k.a. Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

You can spot him in dim-lit culverts and gusty street corners if you look carefully enough, or more so if he wants you to spot him. A bunch of colourful balloons suspended from strings held carefree in one hand, his other hand beckoning you to come closer… come closer kid, want a floating balloon, don’t you? Come closer then… here, take one and you’ll see it float… we all float down here… you will too… come closer…

(‘It’ is real)

The Clown (King) knows what scares you the most, what makes your heartbeat falter and your mind feel every movement of the terror as it crawls its way through your bodily pipelines. He knows best and isn’t afraid to use this knowing. Not one bit, no. Which brings me to the one most pertinent statement that I wish to put down here before the power of first reaction goes away as I move forward to another author-
Stephen King’s IT is the best horror novel I have read so far, hands down.

Yes the novel is a coming of age story that is bitterly funny, emotional, thrilling, engaging and passionate (quite explicitly so infact, which made me wonder at places if it is fit to be read by kids. One overtly gratuitous kiddy orgy, in particular, seemed totally out of place and hard to stomach. But this is Stevie King we are talking about and brother there aint no place in no dictionary of King for fuckin’ ‘restraint’).

Yet, all these adjectives are mere ancillaries… side orders loaded on to your table at a fancy restaurant with shiny cutlery, thick tablecloth and mousey waiters fake smile and bowtie in place… loaded to the point that you can barely move your spoon and fork without toppling something over even as the moustachioed midget waiting on you beams wide-eyed and goes, 'Would you like me to bring an extra bowl of salad for you Monsieur?' the clatter and clang of ceramic punctuating his every word.

At its core, Stephen King’s IT is a harrowing and haunting narrative. It manufactures a tension inside you which comes off as such a natural sensation that you are simply overcome by the plainness of the whole damn thing. Through his cringe-inducing writing style that keeps jumping from present to past and back again, King undoes the knots of fearlessness in your heart with an almost leisurely pace, producing image after image of atleast a dozen seemingly ordinary nightmares from which your mind gets to pick and choose the one that will last with you the longest. Also I think the reason why it succeeds so well in inflicting the skin on your neck with goosebumps could be that IT targets the kid inside you. 

Heck, I’m a grown-ass man and I got shit scared while reading few chapters. And folks, if that doesn’t count for anything then I don’t know how else to put it up for your consideration.

‘What I wanted to do with IT was that I wanted to write a story about kids but for adults to read. I’d always felt surprised at how nobody had tried that before given it being such an important phase of our lives’- King’s words, not mine. 

And I fully fucking agree with him on that. Because to close on my absolute 100% wholehearted recommendation that you read this book, I must tell you, I have never read something like this before.
This is what defines old-school effective horror writing.

It is a must must must read.

(‘It’ is real)

And if you think you are that heroic braveheart douchebag who sniggers, ‘It’s only a book you pussy. Only ink and paper with binding glue holding its pants together. And that don’t scare me, even a bit’ then I wont argue with you.

I wont force down your throat the idea that you will be checking your back twice before switching off the lights atleast for half a week or that your ears will flicker and dilate every time a tap starts dripping somewhere in the middle of the night. No I’m not going to make you accept such cheesy nonsense even if it is whats going to happen with you word to word.

In place of that, I tell you this- Read IT. Just read. 

And I promise, there will be that one night where you wake up sweating and gasping for breath, the image of Pennywise the Clown swimming in your mind’s eye... shiny white eyes staring at you with a fake red smile, his cracked white facepaint wet and runny, his mouth open- lined with dirty yellow teeth- as his tongue rolls down ten feet and touches the ground like a red carpet unfurling just for you, waiting… waiting for you to get closercloser... come closer kid, don’t you like floating balloons?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Moor's Last Sigh- Salman Rushdie

As I begin to write here of my take on this peculiar book, how badly it is I wish that this were my first acquaintance with Rushdie’s penmanship.

How badly, indeed.

For had this been my maiden read of Rushdie’s work, and had I, in what could only be a bout of excessive self-belief, gone on to write a review on it then, how different the whole damned piece would have come out from my fingertips. (flown out, to be precise).

As line after line (wave after wave) of deserved adulation for the author and his proclivity for language made its way onto the tedious blankness of digital paper, what thorough a recommendation it would have been, with me egging any and every reading git and gittess to lay hands on this book without a second thought.

‘An ocean of praise’ is what would have been my review of The Moor’s Last Sigh, my dear reader, in that ideal parallel universe; with admiration drooling from me like dribble from the jowls of a dog that has just been fed half a biscuit and is now expecting the hand that usually feeds it to throw the other half at its face.

An ocean of praise celebrating this magnificent writer for his capacity to depict the morose, the morbid and, not to forget, the absolute grotesque, in a way (If you will believe me) that makes the entire thing seem so colourful and so jolly.

His ability to weave into one book such copious amounts of subplots, each of which has more story in it than what the alleged ‘bestselling’ novelists of our country might be able to produce in all of their writing careers put together;

His passion for bringing out the ugly and the vile in men and nations, the truth that we refuse to accept and admit after having swept it under the rug so nicely that after a point there seems to be no other way of proving its existence then through overtly fictitious characters and their overtly fictitious tales;

His knowledge of history, politics and people- of india and in general- which he mingles and spices up with magical realism (and sometimes political incorrectness) to give it that lip-smacking taste of a narrative that simply melts in your mind’s eye;

And more so, his commendable feat of bringing to life some of the most fearless female leads I have ever been made to imagine, fearless in that true and raw sense which we seem to have forgotten the meaning of a long time ago, perhaps at that point in history where some fucker mistook Victorian preachings on ‘decency’ as the preachings of our own ancestors and began looking at the real, bold, open-to-sensuality legacy of our true predecessors with a shaming, discrediting eye.

‘How is this chap even able to hold so many subplots together in one bloody book? What strings are these that bind them together and yet remain so invisible?’ I would have asked you, with awestruck sincerity, wanting to address the elephant in the room, the open secret.

‘How can his fucking story even fucking move ahead (and with so much fucking pace) when there no fucking story-arc in there at all!’ I would have added to my question, with clear lack of subtlety owing to shortage of disbelief-expressing wordage in my paltry vocabulary.

So on and so forth…
(You get the general idea, don’t you?)
is what my review of this artist and his creation would have read like, till the very end… If only…

(Sighs deeply)

Ah! But The Moor’s Last Sigh was not my first read of Rushdie.

‘twas my seventh.

And so, in place of the ocean of praise that I would have bathed this novel in, for being the maddeningly arousing orgy of delectable characters and their delectable tale of three generations’ worth history (which it still is), I must tell you instead that when i reached the closing page of this book, what overcame me was not the elation of a shuddering climax, but the literary equivalent of sudden sexual impotence.

‘The horror! The horror!’ (echoes Kurtz from my previous post on Conrad, as if he knows exactly what I mean)

Let me clarify. I do not say that what praise I have showered on the author till now does not hold true for this book. I do not say that, as saying so would be far from the truth; for the book, or atleast the first three-fourths of it, is a magnificent read, teeming with love and passion for writing prose that the author has demonstrated time and again. It is mesmerizing in certain parts and singularly innovative in others.

And yet I grieve as only an ardent fan can, why o why does a naturally talented writer have to mimic his own work as if going formulaic was the only way to go about the storytelling business?

Why did Rushdie have to do this?

For reasons, intentional or unintentional, The Moor’s is as clear a mimic of Rushdie’s previously acclaimed Midnight's Children, as is my left hand of my right. And unfortunately, to add to that, I can only deem the concluding one-fourth of this narrative to be a disappointingly opaque shadow of the previous book’s meritorious finale.

Of course, the plot, the setting, the characters, the dialogues and the incidents depicted in both books are quite different . (Wouldn’t that be, like, minimum expectation when the writer in question is not Cheatn Bug-gut?)

The narrative this time around has some insane word-tweaking, with a taste and smell that is unmistakably Goan. Page snapshot presented to you below for sampling purposes:

Yes god-damn-it, of course the book is different from Midnight’s in these aspects, and many more. 

But how am I to let go unnoticed, the uncanny similarities that still are there between the two? How am I to not see a mirror standing between Saleem Sinai with his abnormal nose and his fatal predicament owing to a somewhat-magical-in-nature ailment, and Moraes ‘Moor’ Zogoiby with his abnormal right hand and his equally fatal predicament owing to a somewhat-equally-magical-in-nature ailment?

How similar are the way these two protagonists then go about the telling of their tales that, co-incidentally, begin two generations prior to their coming into existence.

But wait, o’ quick-to-judge-a-guy-as-cynical reader, as I inform to you that I am not one for snubbing a piece of good writing only because it is formulaic and comparable to what has already been written before. I have, I assure you, no qualm with replication of writing style and narrative pattern.

My contention here is- of what use is such replication if the resultant prose seems simply forced and way too poetic to digest? For that is exactly what I thought of the final act of The Moor’s to be- excessively poetic and simply forced, such that all the goodwill that must have gotten inside my skull from the pages preceding it was wiped away clean, in one single anti-cathartic sweep of loquacious wordage.

And then there is Grimus mode that I need to tell you about (with clenched teeth, quivering lips, and a heavy heart).

Oh fucking Grimus mode- Rushdie’s answer to a tight corner in the story or what we normally call a ‘cop-out’ when it is employed by writers who are not Rushdie.

The only difference is, a ‘cop-out’ by definition means ‘an overtly simplistic solution to a conflict that leads to the conclusion of the story without that conflict actually getting addressed’, whereas the definition of Grimus mode, if there was one, would read as ‘that portion of Rushdie’s story where the lead character decides that it is time for him to leave behind all his existing conflicts, fly off to an imaginary location and encounter fresh conflicts over there that will be much easier to resolve but will take enough time for the novel to reach its end safely before the reader realizes that he has been fucked in the rear by the author.’

Would you like to know more about Grimus mode? Then please do read Rushdie’s debut novel by that name. (Please don’t. Unless you want to know what horseshit packed in heavy philosophy and then wrapped in another layer of highbrow yet moronic sci-fi feels like.)

To sum it all up, especially for the benefit of those who have scrolled down until here in search of a final verdict on the book so they can then forget the whole thing and get back to their lives, I look at you square in the eye and say-

Yes, the book has many flaws. But if you are a first time Rushdie reader, you will be too bedazzled to notice any. So I recommend you to read this book.

If you have already read Rushdie before, I’m sure you are looking for no verdict from me. You know as well as I do that you will be reading The Moor’s Last Sigh, no matter how many of its flaws are pointed out to you.

PS: In what can only be termed as over-indulgence in the abstract, I seem to have ended my review without actually having written anything on what the story of the novel is all about. To make up for this miss-out, I present to you (the only passive solution that I could come up with right now) another snapshot, this time of the back cover from the copy that I have.

Happy readings to all!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Heart of Darkness- Joseph Conrad

“What thing, most common of all, frightens men?

Ghosts, you say? White contours of the see-through kind floating through dim-lit corridors and lampless alleys? Nay, I think not.

Ghouls, you say? Phantoms from the past bound by rattling chains, clotted wounds and of unfulfilled vows, bemoaning? I do not concur.

Or death maybe? The ultimate, the penultimate. Would that, a response, appropriate enough be?

(Impeding all, exempting none
all good all bad it meets as one
A stab to the soul, as sharp as steel
the pang of end, ye’ll ever feel)

Nay, I say again even in knowledge, full, that death be feared by many in number. Fear of death is a petty fear, nonetheless.

‘tis but the unknown! Aye, the unknown, that frightens men, most common.”

I found Heart of Darkness to be a frightening novel.

I am not humoring the reader when I write that this seemingly puny book, a hundred and one pages thick and weighing less than the average smartphone, managed to scare (scar) the shit out of me, all for one reason- it laid bare, in my mind’s eye, the sheer gut-wrenching capacity that the unknown of our world holds for wreaking havoc.


And I think, it managed to scar (scare) me even more, for another bigger and indubitably eerie reason- the ‘unknown’ that was being laid bare in my mind’s eye was not external to me but within me. For, the unknown being described was human nature and its unpredictability.

Yes, my nature. Our nature. The nature of a being that has so advanced in its capacity to think, that it somehow fails to acknowledge the presence of darker, murkier dephts in its own mind;  the dephts that remain unchartered, only so rules of society and morality may continue to be upheld.

A civilized society. The last line of our defence against the natural darkness, mayhap.

What then, is to happen of such depths when society is absent altogether? Or when its fruits are not too enticing for a man to continue to uphold its rules and regulations?

‘The horror! The horror!’, echoes from Kurtz, our antagonist, in his dying breath. Kurtz is a man for whom these dephts have not remained unchartered since years. He is a leader for others in an isolated part of the world where the semblance of society is not required to be maintained.

And it is in his last words that I found the phenomenon of human nature, in its darkest, best explained.

‘The horror! The horror!’

The book is presented to us, as a first person retelling of his experience to his crew, by Charles Marlow, a weathered steamboat captain who had been assigned with the task of relieving Mr. Kurtz of his duty as an Ivory trader in the forests of nineteenth century Congo. Cast into the African forests by his mission, Marlow encounters overwhelming absurdity in his surroundings that makes him question his own contentions of nature and men (in turn making the reader do the same).
Heart of Darkness is a novella. I say this only for the benefit of all who choose to heed the advise of a reader who has erred already in attempting to read it first as a full fledged novel. It ends on page one hundred and one and is supposed to be read as a story that is only a hundred odd pages long. Period.

I took two whole weeks to finish the damn thing.

And in that exhaustive process of trying to keep up with such a complex narrative for such a long time, I believe I failed miserably in grasping the essence of the style and plot in my first read. Then came one fine Sunday, when my folly struck me as quick and harsh as lightning.

And the second read, surprisingly, took a mere three hours despite the heavy Victorian era wordage.

As is the case with most existential narratives, Heart of Darkness does not have a moral to underline. It is simply an attempt to describe to the reader the irrationality of life. It is an attempt to scratch the surface of the darkness within us.

And it succeeds in doing so with such a distressing flow of gloom that the events narrated by Charles Marlow, the brutal deeds of Kurtz and the terror-inducing depiction of the Congo forests continue to haunt you for days after you are done reading.

A must read for all who can decipher its intent and wish to do so.