Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My first Kafka!

And now I am a bit less clueless as to what it means when they call a piece of art 'Kafkaesque'.

No wonder the likes of David Lynch and Co. consider him their source of inspiration.

The story begins with our protagonist, Gregor Samsa (a metaphorical representation of Franz Kafka​ himself, if I am not mistaken), waking up one fine morning to find that he is not able to get out of bed as he has transformed into a large bug. Worried that he will be late for office- where he is employed as a travelling salesman- Gregor then makes several attempts to come to terms with his new body and get on with his routine before his father or his boss's chief clerk- who has come to his house to check why he is late today- will get a chance to reprimand him for being tardy and ungrateful.

Yes. That is how surreal it is.

And, to top it all, by never giving an explanation as to why the metamorphosis actually happened in the first place, Kafka ensures that the physical deformity does not take centre-stage in the plot even if it is precisely what triggered the conflict.
Kafka, in its stead, maintains a firm grip on the telling, ensuring that the focus remain on presenting it as an absurdist commentary on authoritarianism and the impact it has on an obliging mind.

Gregor, despite facing the misfortune of having metamorphosed into an insect-like creature, is never shown to rise above thinking about how the people around him will react; whether his family will forgive him for the burden that he has become by losing his source of income; whether his father will notice the little acts of obedience he is still displaying undeterred by the loss of his ability to communicate; whether his sister is aware of how grateful he is for trying to make life a little less miserable for him by clearing out the furniture so he be able to crawl around freely and by putting out stale food in his room, twice a day.

By setting the scenes inside closed rooms till the very end and by describing them in a bleak, claustrophobic manner, Kafka makes the reader experience better the unintelligent and over-complaisant mindset of the main character. Gregor never reaches a point where he can starts believing that he, and not his family, is the one who is suffering. Neither does he understand the selfish nature of the people who rule his life.

And that, I believe, holds true for any person who chooses to remain co-operative and accommodating of a society- or the few who govern it- that is ever ready to impose on anyone and everyone willing to bend.

The writing is 'German' stern, yet packs quite a few moments of absurdist hilarity that makes one smile, cringe and ponder- all at the same time, if you will believe me- at the silly little travelling salesman whose life has been turned upside down and yet whose first thought is, 'Heck, I'm going to be late for work!'

Certainly worth a read.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

This was one mind-fuck of a book. I have no other term to describe it better.

On a side note, it feels good to have picked up, at long last, a book that shouldn’t take more than two days of reading time (which sounds like a lot to ask for when compared to the last one I unfortunately picked: King’s Cell which is-I am restraining myself here- excruciatingly longwinded and purposeless).

Been a while since I read this light. Phew!

But that’s not exactly a merit in itself, is it? I mean, why do you reckon I don’t normally go for light reads? Because more often than not, they are written by light headed writers whose capacity for depth and detailing is as rich as the average Bombay street-urchin.

The exact merit that I would want to talk about here- apart from the fact that this is one mind-fuck of a book- is this:

To the authoress’ credit, I can’t seem to think of any aspect, literary and otherwise, that has been sacrificed by her to present her book as fast paced.

The character depth and scene buildup is almost exquisite. The detailing is perfectly generous without making the prose lose its purpose at any place or become flowery (believe you me, ‘flowery’ is definitely not a word I would use to describe anything even remotely related to Gone Girl) and the amount and the standard of wit in the writing was stand-out enough to question my belief that nobody can beat Irish authors in black humour.  

And, this is a four hundred and fifty paged, no double spacing, no generous margins and regular font book we’re discussing here. That’s a lot of space for a lot of things to get out of hand and turn the whole manuscript jarringly messy.

So, I for one simply cannot imagine the kind of intelligence and brutal perception of people and situations that a person would require to come up with shit this fucked up.

And that’s not all!

What I cannot even BEGIN to imagine-forget simply imagine- is the kind of literary talent it would take to suppress the urge to go full crazy while coming up with shit this fucked up and continue to write in such an abso-fuckin-lutely controlled manner till the very end!

Phew, I’m just blown away. Crazy stuff!

Immersive storyline, taut writing style, nerve-racking plot development, vicious twists that leave you laughing out loud helplessly and characters who are such a horrifying mess, after a point you start to think of them as really perfect, or worse, perfectly real (in a twisted sort of way).

Marriage as an institution never looked this naked. Really.

Crap, I can’t review further without giving away precious plot points; that is if any of you are left who haven’t still seen the movie adaptation. (Well I didn’t, and I was rewarded thoroughly by getting to read without knowing what would happen next.)

Recommended for sure.

Flynn, you evil little genius you.

Do I even have a choice now of not ordering your other two books in the next ten minutes?

                       ****Slyly opens, debit card in hand***

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cell by Stephen King

Quite the plodding read this turned out to be, especially the mid section. Stephen King attempts to pull off another full scale novel with an idea justifiable only to make a novella of.

So how does he go about it?

How the fuck else but by filling the whole thing up with verbose and catchy descriptions of side characters, popular locations, highways (The guy seems to suffer from some kind of road fetish if you ask me), branded food, branded clothing and every other item one would normally prefix the term 'American' with.

King doesn't care if these have any relation to the main plot; and honestly they don't. Which gets kind of frustrating after the first hundred pages or so.

And having experienced already his power to disappoint big time after a near-perfect build-up through @The Stand, I expected little from the end, which might be why I could think of it as well paced and judiciously executed.

Two or three brilliantly written scenes that stand out as witty or shocking.
Rest is typical. And by that I don't intend to say its a bad plot. Its just that the so called end-of-the-world genre has been done to death so many times (and by his own self too).

Best snubbed. The author's other works clearly surpass this one in quality.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Shadow Lines- Amitav Ghosh

What began as a mere detour from the much grander expedition that I longed to venture immediately into, having finished Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss has now taken a surprising turn and revealed itself as a separate journey altogether that seems to be equal, if not greater, in standing when pitted against my originally intended read of the Ibis trilogy’s final instalment.

An ingenious piece of storytelling, Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines may aptly be described as a book that does with history and geography, what Nolan’s Inception and Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind do, respectively, with the concepts of dreams and memories.

Intertwined stories, that unfold parallel to each other despite having transpired in different years and with different generations of a family, are presented to us in the form of a first person narrative where the central character is a young man head-over-heels in love with the power of imagination such that any place or event described to him well enough becomes a part of his memory as if he were the one who had experienced it all. And so with this excuse of having an abnormally gifted narrator as the protagonist, Ghosh – who himself is no less an abnormally gifted narrator- unfurls his remarkable penchant for taking the audience for a ride through time and space that is difficult to believe as achievable through the usage of only words.

Along the length of the novel we meet the narrator’s cousins, his grandmother, a love interest and few others who in turn form the key characters for the sub-plots that are happening in the present or have happened already at some point of time in the past. The book draws several references to events such as the Second World War, Communal riots of Dhaka and Calcutta, the Partition, etc that are fused competently enough into the story to form a natural backdrop for the personal-level conflicts.

Now before I continue to praise the bejesus out of this book, I believe I need to throw light on a few things about myself.

As a kid, I don’t remember ever being fascinated with either history or geography. I never felt the urge to show in these subjects an interest greater than what was requisite to clear and move to the next level of studies. And until very recently, I placed the blame for this disinterest in me on my lack of sympathy towards facts and figures.

Names dates, places, numbers… you name it and wring my collar as much as you want, threaten me with anything you can think of… yet, no matter how significant they are meant to be, these static objects that may provide solace in their steadiness to many others almost always manage to slip through the clasp of my brain like un-tethered geese.

Or, if I were to put it more bluntly, without the application of unnecessarily poetic prose-
I am fucking stupid with anything that involves facts.

Which was why I never enjoyed history and geography…

Or so I believed until a year back even after half a decade had passed since my first encounters with Ghosh and Rushdie whose reliance on facts and figures is quite heavy (though the latter believes in profoundly distorting them before being presented for the audiences’ consumption).

That was when I chanced upon the good fortune of making acquaintance with a certain history-loving Elver, whose long-drawn albeit excellently paced and arced description of bygone events made me question this misconception of mine that history is but a bland collection of facts and figures and is, therefore, not worth my interest. A similar line of questioning also opened up on the subject of geography as place after pictorial place of either historical or environmental significance were described to me by this gifted Elver in such vivid colours that these places- which I had been foolhardy to think of as simply names, in the past- only then became existent for me.

It was during one of these conversations (which not surprisingly almost always happen over generous servings of choice delicacies, the kind only shady joints are capable of conjuring :p) that I understood what the true reason for my disinterest in either subject was- I was never taught history or geography in the right way. 

From what I can recollect, the emphasis of the curriculum was always on ensuring that facts weren't forgotten, like chemical equations or mathematical formulae. And while this approach was fine enough to see me through exam after exam where I filled in blanks with the correct names and dates and places and numbers, I was never asked to play out a scene in my mind where a person, of flesh and blood named so-and-so, did on so-and-so date and at so-and-so place, something that has come to be signified by so-and-so number, thus depriving me of the inimitable power of putting one’s imagination to use.

The Shadow Lines is the story about this inimitable power. And it is written so effectively that a mere mortal like me is bound to forget, conveniently enough, that he is fucking stupid with anything that involves facts, and is instead able to view (in IMAX 3D, believe me) the events being described exactly as they transpired on so-and-so dates.

Although I found it difficult to follow at few places, Ghosh does a terrific job at shifting the narrative from one timeline to the other without a break in his writing. One particular scene in a closed attic where three timelines converge into one is simply breathtaking. This may take some getting used to, but definitely stands out as a positive literary takeaway in the end.

The end….

Ah! The end…

To put something so guttural and heart wrenching into words, I am at loss here. But I can tell you this- I was left with the hair on my arms standing, the back of my neck perspiring, and my mind unsettled by the time I reached the last line of the last page.

Distressing as hell.

To conclude, as with any other book written by him, I cannot help but recommend Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines to any living soul who wishes to understand how vibrant and deep one’s perception of our collective past and our collective present becomes when one learns to apply his imagination to the study of history and places. 

It is an astounding trivia indeed that a book published in the year of my birth still has the capacity to leave me shaken in this day and age.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Flood of Fire- Book signing

Thats him!
'Who do I make it out to?' I am asked, just as I am recovering from a series of shocks, namely:

(A) realising that you have made a two hour journey from your home to that part of the city you despise the most- battling rains and cancelled trains, that too on your day off- all for getting your favourite author's signature... WITHOUT CARRYING A FUCKING PEN!,

(B) then, realising that the lady at the counter whom you have asked for a spare pen has- unintentionally, I'm hoping- handed to you one that looks more like a tooth pick than something a person can write using,

(C) then, realising that you have just walked up to a man you personally consider a legend and shook his hand and mouthed your pathetic little ditty that goes 'Big fan sir, really big fan...' in your pathetic little voice, only to then hand him your copy of his book alongwith the previously borrowed toothpick as he stares uncomfortably at it- the way gods used to wielding tridents and and sceptres and what not are bound to stare when handed nail-cutters and can-openers.

Your mentor is polite enough to hand the pathetic-excuse-of-a-pen back to you, borrowing in its stead, a real one from another reader who- unlike yours truly- clearly understands the importance of carrying a decent fucking pen when attending a book signing event.

Then, the question, 'Who do I make it to?'

To which I reply, having picked the worst possible moment for forgetting that I go by a pen name.


Another brief handshake and I managed to mumble a 'nice meeting you, sir' before he was off again.

Terrible, terrible day I tell you. But totally worth it.

PS: God that sparkling head of hair! Pure unabashed white!