Archive for February, 2009

Inbetweener 1 Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger

February 26, 2009

As I stated in my first post, that once in a while, in order to break the routine I will read a book which isn’t on the list and here’s the first one. Really I’m reading this because I’m part of a book club and this is the novel we are going to discuss.

At it’s very core ‘The White Tiger’ is a political novel, not dissimilar to Orwell’s Animal Farm, in the sense that the hero of the story, Belram does manage to arise from his caste through breaking free but then (more or less) falls into the same circle of corruption as his masters. It’s a rags to riches tale in this respect as well then.

Belram is nicknamed The White Tiger by his teacher as he is a very rare specimen. Intelligent and quick thinking he outdoes all his peers, that his until he is a victim of Indian politics and has to work in a tea shop. This happens all throughout the book. Belram is constantly a target of the Indian social scheme. Whether he is learning driving lessons, a driver for a rich man or even visiting a prostitute he tends to get the short end of the stick, as many Indians do (he cleverly compares this situation to a rooster’s coop)

One day, in a fit of anger Belram kills his master (we are told this in the beginning of the book) and indeed a new life of corruption is in his hands. The circle is complete.

On the whole I did enjoy reading this book, Adiga has a gift for using humor in a very subtle manner and yet his sense of irony hits very hard. I do not know if Indian politics are like this but he does present a very real situation.  It is a very zippy read due to Adiga’s no fat style. It’s a concise novel that progresses at a lightening pace. It is not perfect as it  can get a little predictable, mainly due to the fact that we know what will happen but let this not deter you from what is a wonderful debut and, hopefully, we will see more of Adiga in the future.

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Book 988 Alan Hollinghurst – The Line of Beauty

February 22, 2009

As I was reading Alan Holinghurst’s ‘The Line of Beauty’ I couldn’t help feeling that, bar the gay sex scenes, this would be the perfect novel to study for ones A levels. It’s got everything. Well defined characters, an topical plot, bits of humor and it is impeccably written. Incidentally I have Hollinghurst’s three main novels ; The Swimming Pool Library, The Folding Start and this one but I have never been able to finish them. Thankfully I got through this one and I loved every second of it.

I am a huge sucker for the well crafted novel. It’s a reason why I love writers such as Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess and Tim Winton. Everything has a part to play and as the plot becomes more complex you find yourself more engaged in the book.

Nick Guest, who comes from a humble family, is a permanent resident at up and coming Tory politician Gerald Fedden and his slightly dysfunctional family. Although Nick is clearly out of place with their lifestyle, he is friends with Gerald’s son Toby and the family accept him as an extra son. Because of this Nick feels privileged to know such a class of family so intimately and feels that he is part of a special world.

Nick is also gay and throughout the novel he embarks on relationships with two very different men. One is the middle class Leo, which is short-lived and with Wani Ouradi, a product of a  nouveau riche family (ironically his father, Bertrand became rich through owning a supermarket chain – a dig at Thatcher or maybe Harrods?) , and has a predilection for cocaine and kinky sex, drags Nick into this seedy underworld.

Eventually the party has to end and Nick discovers that the majority of his gay friends are suffering from AIDS, the Tory government is crippling Britain, Gerald has created a scandal and his daughter, Catherine’s depression gets worse.

Eventually due to the press discovering Nick’s love affair with the supposedly straight Wani, Gerald banishes Nick from his house. A leaving of the garden of Eden.

Hollinhurst’s portrayal of social classes is very reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh’s, that is mocking, slightly cruel and full of dirty secrets. Although not laugh out loud funny, Hollinghurst does bring a smile to one’s lips, especially at the Fedden’s silver wedding anniversary party, where Margaret Thatcher makes an appearance.

Satirical jibes aside, ‘The Line of Beauty’ (which has many connotations in the novel) is the type of novel that resonates with it’s beauty and structure. Not one word or action is out of place and although the novel takes place in the eighties there aren’t any annoying anachronisms, which hinder one from reading the book.

I am a bit hesitant to say generalize but I think there is such a thing called the Classic British Novel, where social classes are dissected and mocked at, while the writing is top notch and the plot unfolds and the reader discovers more secrets. If there is such a genre then Hollinghurst has created a modern benchmark.

Book 989 Ali Smith – The Accidental

February 7, 2009

Ali Smith is an author I’ve read about – and it always seems that the reviews either a) praise her b) condone her so I was quite pleased to find out that ‘The Accidental’ made the the 1001 list. I’m even more pleased at the fact that I am part of the former category as well. Yes, I’m now a fan.

The Smart family are dysfunctional. Astrid only views life through her handheld camera, her brother Magnus is suicidal, the half father, lecturer, Michael sleeps with his students and the mother, Eve is a best-selling author who superficial in all ways. Each chapter is about these protagonists and is told through their eyes.

That is until Amber walks into their life.

Slowly Amber changes each family member in a positive way but this is no cliched Benny and Joon story. Amber usually changes people by antagonising them (except for Magnus) and exposing their true selves. Towards the end Astrid is more aware of life, Magnus is filled with hope, Michael sees the emptiness of his life and Eve  begins to be more genuine. There’s also the subplot about the history of cinema, this is presumably Amber’s personal story.

On screen this looks like some soap opera but in Smith’s hands it is anything but. Her use of language is dazzling as puns and vivid imagery are lightly sprinkled on each page and her way of squeezing out philosophical thoughts and ideas as if they were throwaway is another masterful stroke. Most of all the character of the free thinking Amber is memorable creation and her thoughts and words, no matter how blunt and rough, leave an impression. It wouldn’t be right to say that she is a Holden Caufield clone but they both have the same type of world-vision.

The Accidental is one of those books that last in the memory for ages. Even as I type certain inflections and sentences are spinning round my head. Despite it’s artiness (one chapter is composed of poems) it is extremely accessible and Smith makes sure that the reader is not left in the dark as each individual chapter is closley linked with the last. I see The Accidental as a forerunner for the shape of novels to come. Something with a complicated facade and yet can be accepted by all.

Book 990 John Banville – The Sea

February 1, 2009

The first time I encountered a Banville novel was in 2001, it was The Book of Evidence and I quite enjoyed it. True I thought the best bit was the murder scene and nothing else in the book matched those vivid descriptions but I was hooked and I finished it in one sitting.

I had a lot of mixed reactions to ‘The Sea’ though. On one hand the prose is beautiful, moving and stirring and yet, in it’s odd way, indescribably boring. I did struggle to keep my attention focused and it wasn’t the first time that my eyes kept wandering elsewhere and I had to reread certain passages.

The novel focuses on Max Morden, a recent widow and a person who clings to his past. In order to purge himself from the loss of his wife and to revisit his childhood, he decides to visit the seaside resort, which contained many memories of his youth. Especially one incident which left him scarred for life.

Once he begins his visit Morden begins to shift from past to present. His wife’s sickness, the coming of age experiences with The Grace family, who visit the seaside that summer of his youth and his dealing’s with the loss of his wife. Eventually he concludes his memoir with the deaths of the Grace family twins and the death of his wife.

Decay plays a big part here, like Beckett, The characters in ‘The Sea’ are all heading towards some nasty end. One poignant scene in particular describes Morden’s hospitalised wife taking pictures of  the gravely injured patients. According to the book death is not a form of release but rather a burden which drags you down slowly.  Although the theme of water is prevalent, it is not, as Iris Murdoch depicts it, a form of cleansing but rather a reserve of death. In fact the novel concludes with Morden comparing his experience with his wife’s death as floating in water.

When it comes to the macabre Banville excels, however when it comes to the mundane everyday chores, the novel begins to drag and lose all it’s linguistic flair and thus not making it an enjoyable read. Plus the continuous pessimism grates.  I cannot say I actually liked this book but I cannot dismiss it either. However I’m not sure if I’ll read another Banville again for quite a while.