Notwithstanding the unostentatious title and the nondescript cast ‘The Lunchbox’ is one of those exquisite, quintessential cinema that Bollywood (Indian film industry) churns out every once in a while.
We undeniably live in an increasingly individualistic world where affectionate emotions have underlying shades of cynicism. As steadfastly as we hold dear our narcissist instincts , a modicum of camaraderie is all that our soul desperately craves albeit the objective denial. A dearth of companionship is known to have a profound effect on an individual’s psyche – often resulting in withdrawal syndromes, addictions and sequentially suicide. For Ila however, her predicament does not drive her to such levels of morbidity.
Ila is, what the Indian rhetoric dubs her, the archetypal housewife whose fate is etched in stone the day she ties the knot. The unimpeachable avowal of marriage inextricably links the Indian housewife to her beloved in a tacit agreement of servitude. Interestingly, Ila like all the rest is not one for kvetching. She would rather, in all earnestness, spend her entire life serving her husband and mothering the progeny. The movie opens with the quaint and charming Ila preparing a scrumptious lunch (Ila has a penchant for cooking, trying her hand at a number of dishes) for her husband, packing it in a tiffin box- stainless steel bowls stacked one over the other and clamped together at the top- to be delivered to him at his office by the ingeniously networked, meticulously operating, beating all odds and (of course) ‘Harvard researched’ world famous Mumbai Tiffinwalas. The said research projected the probability of these Tiffinwalas erring in a delivery close to zero.
So on the off chance that they do defect, it happened to be Ila’s. The unassuming recipient of the lunchbox is Saajan Fernandes – a diligent government employee, short tempered and a loner. Saajan is unfortunately, also a widower. Dedicating 25 years of service, he has been planning his retirement for a while now – desirous of a peaceful retreat to Nashik (a small town in the hinterland). Coincidentally, Saajan had an arrangement with a local dhaba to get his lunch delivered to his office. The day Ila’s tiffin box lands on his desktop he hardly suspects an anomaly except that he didn’t expect the crude restaurant to offer such a variety of dishes. Very well! After consuming the contents of the tiffin to its very dregs, the lunchbox is picked up from the office and sent back to the source – in this case, Ila’s home. Later, when she demurely asks her husband’s opinion about the lunch it dawns on her that it didn’t deliver to the intended recipient. The next day she sends a handwritten note with the tiffin, asking the unknown recipient (Saajan) about his opinion of the food. And so unspools an epistolary love story between Ila and Saajan with their bespoken exchange of letters.
I would not be surprised should every woman relate to Ila at some point during the film, whether as a mother, daughter, wife or neighbor. Every emotion is so raw, unmasked and genuine we are left to wonder whether what we see is not quite all that there is. It depicts the soliloquy of a housewife with bestirring audacity. Debutant Nimrat Kaur essays the role of Ila with utmost adeptness. Very few actresses would befit the role of Ila as good as Nimrat. Most certainly,Irfan Khan (Saajan) is the idiomatic cherry. International actor Irfan Khan is definitely not a novice. His past roles have spoken for themselves and Saajan is yet another in his kitty. I must give a special mention to Nawazuddin Siddique who plays the part of the ever-smiling Mr. Shaikh; getting the necessary humour to the screen. Shaikh is to succeed Saajan on his retirement and Saajan is entrusted with duty of running him through the induction. Siddique is another well known name in the realm of off-beat films.
The Lunchbox is a love story that is unlike any Bollywood stereotype you’d encounter. Director Ritesh Batra has weaved an ingenuous, lighthearted yet an unconventional take on the clichéd extramarital affair peppered with lovable moments that subliminally leaves a smile. It begs the question of unrequited love, one sided relationships. Do we expect more from the ones we love? How much more is more? Is there a parameter to gauge the unquantifiable ‘more’? Affection is fleeting and opportunistic; love peters out with the years. Is Ila being wistful in her effort to rekindle her relationship? Somewhere along the way, you draw the line. I read somewhere that it is bad to break a promise, but it’s worse to let a promise break you.
Brace yourselves ladies and gentlemen; what we have here could easily be the best novel of 2013 (albeit being too early to speculate). Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is a paragon of literary fiction 2013, setting an early benchmark for forthcoming novels. This is my first Kate Atkinson novel and I must say I am decidedly baffled. Kate Atkinson has conceived such a poignant, mysterious and wildly imaginative tale of life and death and the trivialities that fill the spaces between them that even the most ardent, eclectic reader would have never come across something like this.
The concept of this novel is perhaps the most striking, original and unprecedented one. Although it bears a faint semblance to the concept of time travel, it is perceivably distinct. The protagonist in this story, Ursula, dies and keeps dying only to be born again each time; her life resuming from her birth, the events occurring as they are bound to occur, it’s only Ursula’s decisions at that moment that determine the future course of events. First time, she dies right after birth; Second, she falls off the roof; Third, she dies of a mortal flu, Fourth, she is murdered by her husband and fifth, she dies in the Berlin war. Now the catch here is after each death she is reborn as herself, Ursula, back at her Home Town in Fox Corner, as if the incidents which led to her death didn’t occur at all. Ursula, however, has a dim sense of déjà vu. There’s a tingling sensation that lingers in her conscience beckoning her to avoid or engage in a particular course of action to prevent a certain incident from occurring, something portentous, but she isn’t wholly aware that this portent event she is striving to avoid is her death. For instance, the book begins with Ursula assassinating Hitler himself in his youth which later it is revealed to the reader that when she died in the Berlin war she realized it was Hitler who was responsible for the war, her death and that of her loved ones. When she is reborn after this incident she coquettishly tries to befriend Hitler in his youth and then assassinates him in a café following which she is shot by his compatriots. But Ursula is born again, this time there is no Führer, no war. Bizarre! but believable. To be concise, Life After Life is a tale of second chances. Ursula is given the opportunity to change her fate. It narrates and navigates through the various outcomes of the choices she makes in life. The originality of the concept is what is enthralling. There is no intense mystery or suspense as such which incites the conventional reader, in fact it is curiosity. A desire to know what direction would Ursula choose now that she is in possession of a vague prescience. It’s as if every time Ursula dies the movie rewinds to her birth and resumes but with a different story to tell each time.
Kate Atkinson is a stupendous writer -an epitome of ingenious and evocative writing. She has adeptly divided the narrative into small chapters with repetitive titles suggestive of the entailing event for eg. Chapters titled “Snow” are indicative of Ursula’s birth or rebirth. It’s quite complicated a concept to put into few words actually. One can only elucidate it through suitable illustrations from the book.
The only flaw with this book is that amidst all the shifting of setting the reader is sometimes left bewildered trying to put the pieces together. Nothing vexes me more than the author making it excruciatingly difficult for the reader to figure out things for himself. But don’t you fret if you face a similar dilemma because as you read on the vapour condenses and everything becomes crystal clear.
Even if the central plot revolves around rebirth, there is more to it that meets the eye. It is a delightful tale about family and relationships, about love and mores, about struggles and joys, about life and lies and about life defining vicissitudes. This coupled with vivid and strong characterization makes Life After Life a winner.
Kate Atkinson is my new discovery this year and what a discovery at that! She boasts of many awards in her kitty including the coveted Whitbread Book of the Year Award for her best-selling novel (which I am yet to read) ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ Life After Life is already creating hysteria in less than a month since its release in March and is shortlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013. I highly recommended this. Abandon your current read and pick this one. Don’t miss it.
Even after 200 years since it was first published, Pride and Prejudice is a novel that continues to rivet generations of readers. Such is the magnificence of Jane Austen’s audacious writing which is evidenced not just by this one but also her novels like Sense and Sensibility, Emma etc. So profound is her ingenuity and clairvoyance that after the said 200 years we all know a Darcy, a Bennett, a Bingley and a Collins even today. Set in 19th century England, Pride and Prejudice narrates the story of Elizabeth Bennett as she comes to terms with her love for Mr Darcy whose insolence and vanity repulses her more than anything. A love story that navigates through the realm of morality, marriage and mores of early England. I’m not quite disposed to call it a love story alone, in spite of it being labelled ‘A love story beyond time’, because there is so much more happening in this book; a tempestuous relationship, delectable moments marked by humour and wit juxtaposed with its share of deceit and intrigue makes it a pleasurable read. However, this is not saying much, for if anything, Pride and Prejudice is ubiquitously acknowledged to possess some of the best characters in literature. Each character is so vivid that we can’t help but notice the striking resemblance in acquaintances of our own. Never have the characters of a novel so intrigued me as to imbibe in me a thirst for a detailed exposition on each of them.
Here are some of the main characters you will acquaint in this book:
1. Elizabeth Bennet:
Jane Austen’s favourite character, Elizabeth is fiery, feisty and furious. Yet, amidst all this energy she is sensible, audacious, precocious and composed. She is in complete contrast to her family members in terms of her civility and propitious public behaviour. Not easily deceived or deluded, but her pride may get the better of her. Her honesty and objectivity is what makes her so lovable n the eyes of Mr. Darcy. Her quick wit and quips are her best defense against any form of disdain impinged upon her by the aristocratic company she keeps in course of this story.
I couldn’t think of a better person who could so easily keep up with Lizzy’s traits other than Keira Knightley. She’s stupendous and her alacrity makes her endearing from the start go.
2. Fitzwilliam Darcy:
Darcy is a mysterious man, especially during the first half of this book. The reader’s curiosity is flared in pursuit of his character in the same degree as that of Elizabeth’s. Perceptibly insolent and haughty in the beginning, his true colours unfold as the story gets momentum. Darcy’s vanity is debatable on the premise that such loftiness is not uncommon in a man of such large fortune and nobility. A highly misunderstood man with pure intentions. Darcy presents a prodigious degree of nobility of character, love, friendship and sophistication. His disdain is for the lowly of natures, uncivil and inurbane behaviour. He does not engage in inordinate banter or chatter. Not the conversationalist. However, his engagements with Lizzy are so taut with emotion, the reader may enjoy the elephant in the room; the irony of Mr. Darcy falling for a woman who is so palpably incompatible with him.
I really must commend Matthew Macfadyen’s performance as Mr. Darcy. His innocent countenance was aptly captured in this movie than it would have for the reader to conceive in the book. Keira and Mathew share a fabulous chemistry on screen.
3. Jane Bennet:
Jane bears shades of the shy, complaisant, uncritical and ever-ready-to-please girl. She’s overly optimistic about every situation to the point that would question a prudent man’s rationale. Jane is beautiful and her ingenuousness adds grace to her beauty. She was deceived in more than one occasion yet she is not critical in the least about such a deceiver. According to her, humans are incapable of deceit. She is by no means over bearing. It is in fact of the contrary. Jane’s common disposition around everyone and her coyness in expressing herself makes a third person to question her indulgence which in this case is her love for Mr. Bingley. She shares a much affectionate relationship with her sister Lizzy than any of the Bennet sisters. Lizzy however is instrumental in preventing Jane’s discernment from being clouded later in the book as people’s true natures become conceivable to a delusional Jane.
4. Charles Bingley:
Bingley is responsible for creating quite a stir in the peaceful Longbourn house. In fact his presence is what ushers in the half the activity that surrounds the plot. Bingley again is a man of large fortune, amiable and urbane but with humility that instantly holds him in good stead with the inhabitants of Longbourn. But Bingley being the most likeable man seems gullible and indecisive. He fails rather to enquire after Jane regarding her feelings for him, which is not his fault alone as Jane herself didn’t as much show indulgence to his advances to evidence her affection towards him. He is polite and indiscriminating and delightfully entertains Mrs. Bennet’s officious behaviour. There’s not much that can be said of Bingley’s character as that which the book details of him is more of his virtues than his vices.
5. William Collins:
Mr. Collins is the very definition of a sycophant. If obsequiousness of the highest degree had been assigned a word it would unquestionably be Collins. He’s the most repulsive character followed by Mrs. Bennet’s. His inordinate fawning towards his patroness – Lady Catherine, is reminiscent of at least 6 people I know. Mr. Collins is the most resented character in this book. An incessant gloat and the concealed malevolence and censure in his behaviour are but the reasons for such an encompassing loathe for Mr. Collins.
6. Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine:
These characters are very similar in view of their insolence, vanity and disdain for those of lower stature. Caroline appears to be a crafty, jealous and deceitful woman and her caprice is evident by her alternate affection and disaffection to her brother’s acquaintances namely Lizzy and Jane which are of course pretentious.
Lady Catherine however is more resolute and does not tolerate any impertinence directed at her. She does not possess the toady nature of Miss Bingley and exhibits a level of kindness and compassion to those who adulate her. Always the recipient of inordinate compliments and an unquestionable concurrence with her views and opinions, there is nothing that pleases her more.
7. Mr Bennet and Mrs. Bennet:
Mrs. Bennet could be a toned down version of Mr. Collins. Her flattery reaches such absurd levels that would be a stark affront to the recipient. She also enjoys and encourages her younger daughters’ frivolous indulgences in men, gossip and merry making which later have disastrous consequences. Besides, Mrs. Bennet clearly appears to be a dimwit with no sense of humour whatsoever. Her jealousy, rapacity and ill-will towards her neighbour and towards anyone who inasmuch does better than her make her a very detestable character. One is free to reason however that such overzealous flattery is but for the benefit of her daughters.
Mr Bennet is indolent and indifferent to his daughter’s activities though unlike Mrs. Bennet he does not indulge in them. However his inability to keep a check on their activities costs him dearly. Mr. Bennet is, nevertheless, a kind and loving father and his sarcastic humour is appreciably entertaining.
8. George Wickham:
Wickham is a young man of impressive looks and chivalry that makes the girls of Hertfordshire fall head over heels for him. Incidentally, Wickham is not all he seems to be. He is a treacherous, profligate and vicious man and his avarice is a source of many a trouble caused to the shire. His elopement with the youngest Bennet sister Lydia consequentially ends with their marriage after much solicitation.
Pride and Prejudice is a book I would definitely re-read sometime soon. They say that the classics give a different experience with every read. Have you read Pride and Prejudice more than once? Has it been a different experience the second time?
Note: The above are my views on the characters of this book based on my first reading. There is a possibility of having over looked or disregarded certain aspects. Also, I might have been too fastidious about certain characters. I shall definitely read upon these characters some more. Let me know what is your opinion of them? Do you concur or disagree? Leave a comment. I am really eager to know your views on this subject.
I have a dim sense of envy when I witness people rave about their pets to the point of ennui. I haven’t gone about making propaganda out of my pet. It’s not that I love my pet any less, it’s just that I believe there isn’t an appropriate medium to serve as an outlet for the joys of owning one. Initially, I was a bit disgruntled. I wanted a dog. I was always a dog person. In fact, with much spieling I convinced my parents to agree to get me one. A Lab. Yes, that’s what I want. We were to go the next day to the pet store. Until, that evening came she. In a shoe box -emanating a peculiar effluvia of what could easily be poop- wrapped in a rugged white cloth was a tiny pink creature with sparse white fur. Imperceptible at first then unfurled those pink eyelids unveiling a pair of watery emerald eyes, to reveal a scrawny kitten – barely a week old. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. How could I ever let go!
Introducing Phoebe Zachariah!
Now four years old, Phoebe has been a fortuitous blessing to the family. A source of many a life’s lessons to a train-wreck like me – I was a reckless, irresponsible and an insufferable teenager. It’s always a delight brushing her coat, caressing her, admiring her gimmicks and tumbling, the low humming sound of her purr. Even the arduous elementary care till she was old enough didn’t seem much of an ordeal.
Cats they say are one of the most mysterious domestic animals on earth. A dog’s behaviour and gestures to a considerable extent are deducible but those of a cat are still an enigma. Nonetheless, Phoebe here leaves bits and pieces for us to pick up. To show that she cares, that even if the haughty cat, who struts with an air of absolute defiance (except when it comes to food), that she is, she feels. She reciprocates. This came to the fore when my mom was convalescing at home after an operation. Phoebe would cuddle herself near Mom the entire day. Even the temptation of catnip couldn’t lure her off. Heart-warming.
Whenever she senses a commotion or a fight in the house she creates a ruckus by scratching the furniture and newspapers which overwhelms the raucous din attracting attention towards her and diverting it from the squabble, making the squabbling lot beam at her innocence and forget that there even was an argument in the first place.
She has a distinct gesture to show she’s hungry – She’ll first paw you and then nibble your feet.
Cats are such easy maintenance and the idiomatic cherry on top is that they are naturally toilet trained. This was such a relief to Mom who was apprehensive about this in particular among other things.
There’s an old adage which says ‘Dogs have masters and cats have staff’. Cats have an inherent ability to be independent. They can take care of themselves. The only reason that she’s with you right now is because you are an easy source of food and water and your abode suits her 18-hour hibernation. She really couldn’t care less about you the day you hamper her source. It’s a cynical notion but true. This in no manner degrades their lovability quotient. However, there is a lesson in it for all of us. In a world where we think twice before trusting our own neighbor, we are but left to look out for ourselves. Harsh Truth.
I could go on and on but then again I would be contradicting my stance about raving to the point of your ennui. Have a nice day.
Paperback Thrillers – The dog-eared treats that we gobble like candies. There is an inexplicable enigma about the clunky -chunky, high-octane thrillers. You can never have enough of them even if you doggedly try to stick to your Austens and Dickens and Fitzgeralds. I’ve grown reading paperback thrillers. There have been times I have had to abate this binge and resolutely look for something different, for something more intellectually gratifying, experiment – only to be lured back into the expanse of keep-you-brain-aside-sit-back-and-enjoy-the-ride reads. Don’t misconstrue! I do not speak of it with disdain. In fact my introduction, ensued by my inevitable addiction to books first began with the paperback thrillers rather than Shakespeare or Dickens which were usually compulsory reading in school and which, much to my chagrin, never made sense to me. Paperback thrillers were a respite from the intensive ordeal of studying the works of sophisticated authors with highfalutin prose. I can unequivocally vouch for the fact that paperbacks are blissfully a breath of fresh air. Ah! That musty smell of old paperbacks you come across in your sporadic room cleaning drive – only a true book lover could empathize.
So, after some consideration and reconsideration I have put together a list of my Top 5 must read paperback thrillers.
Mathew Reilly is the best *this time with feeling* THE BEST thriller writer out there. If there was anyone who could get your pulse racing, your adrenaline pumping and make you oblivious to your mortal existence and your life sustaining processes then it is Mathew Reilly.
And ICE STATION is his best work till date. Shane Schofeild the protagonist of most of Reilly’s thrillers is one of best characters in this realm and can easily be listed among Reacher (Lee Child), Bond and the like. I loved this one so much I was reportedly (parents) on my toes when I got to exciting parts of the book which was from start to finish. When I finished this one, it was like a withdrawal syndrome. I just wanted to shut myself in a room or perhaps consider hermitage till I am thoroughly conscious of everything around me. Don’t miss this one.
Antarctica is the last unconquered continent, a murderous expanse of howling winds, blinding whiteouts and deadly crevasses. On one edge of Antarctica is Wilkes Station. Beneath Wilkes Station is the gate to hell itself…
A team of U.S. divers, exploring three thousand feet beneath the ice shelf has vanished. Sending out an SOS, Wilkes draws a rapid deployment team of Marines-and someone else…
First comes a horrific firefight. Then comes a plunge into a drowning pool filled with killer whales. Next comes the hard part, as a handful of survivors begin an electrifying, red-hot, non-stop battle of survival across the continent and against wave after wave of elite military assassins-who’ve all come for one thing: a secret buried deep beneath the ice…
2. Split Second by David Baldacci:
Baldacci has been in the business since a long time and his books speak for themselves. He writes and sells his works by the dozen. In fact both Baldacci and Reilly are known for their pacey, edge-of-the-seat thrillers. I have read many of Baldacci’s but Split Second clearly stands out for the hair-raising twists and turns in the plot. Pick this one if you want a fresh author and if you’re a Baldacci fan, hope you haven’t skipped this one.
Michelle Maxwell has just blown her future with the Secret Service. Against her instincts, she led a presidential candidate out of her sight to comfort a grieving widow. Then, behind closed doors, the politician whose safety was her responsibility vanished into thin air.
Living a new life on a quiet lake in central Virginia, Sean King knows how the younger agent feels. He’s been there before. In an out-of-the-way hotel eight years earlier, the hard-charging Secret Service man allowed his attention to be diverted for a split second. And the presidential candidate Sean was protecting was gunned down before his eyes.
Now Michelle and Sean are about to see their destinies converge. She has become obsessed with Sean’s case. And he needs a friend—especially since a series of macabre killings has brought him under suspicion and prompted the reappearance of a seductive woman he’s tried hard to forget.
As the two discredited agents enter a maze of lies, secrets, and deadly coincidences, they uncover a violence that shattered their lives were really a long time in the making – and are a long way from over.
3. The Cell by Colin Forbes:
Now, Colin Forbes may not be a famous name in the scene but some of his reads are definitely worth a reckoning. The Cell, set against the back drop of a terror attack, is eerie and despite a commonplace plot is distinctly and unremittingly exciting. It makes for an easy read. If you loved this one, you may also like ‘The Sisterhood’
Is Al-Qa’eda about to attack London? Tweed, revering to his one-time role as shrewd detective, is convinced of this. Aided by Paula Grey and Bob Newman, he skillfully eludes Government security services who believe that he is wrong.
The village of Carpford, hidden high in the North Downs, catches Tweed’s attention. With its strange assortment of inhabitants — Victor Warner, arrogant Minister of Security; fascinating but duplicitous Eva Brand; Margesson, fanatical preacher — could it be a staging post for terrorists? Key informants start to disappear overnight.
Time has run out. This Tweed does know. But what is the target and when will the attack be launched? And where? Will it happen? As it did in America?
4. Scarecrow by Mathew Reilly:
Yet again a Schofield Thriller. You keep asking for more and I’m not overplaying it. The character development throughout the Schofield series is what trumps it from the rest. Albeit being a series, each book is a standalone. So you don’t need to worry about reading them in order. Reilly is known for killing an important character in every book. So apart from the plot his fans also look forward for the victim in every book. Trust me, it’s heart-breaking to see them die. Scarecrow sees one of the most unexpected and brutal deaths. I shall say no more. Please read this one.
It is the greatest bounty hunt in history. The targets are the finest warriors in the world-commandos, spies, terrorists. And they must all be dead by 12 noon, today. The price on their heads: almost $20 million each.
Among the names, one stands out. The enigmatic Marine, Shane Schofield, who goes by the call-sign “Scarecrow.” Schofield is plunged into a race around the world, pursued by a fearsome collection of international bounty hunters. The race is on and the pace is frantic as he fights for survival, in the process unveiling a vast international conspiracy and the terrible reason why he cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to live!
5. Area 7 by Mathew Reilly and Stone Cold by David Baldacci:
And we have a tie. There were many vying for this post but I shortlisted two and couldn’t decide between them. So I think it’s conspicuous enough, I can never get enough of Reilly and Baldacci. Although, Reilly’s appearance the third time makes me want to rethink the list name.
Area 7 (Schofield Thriller) is again an amazing read. A high-octane hunt and escapade that’s a blazing page turner.
It is America’s most secret base, hidden deep in the Utah desert, an Air Force installation known only as Area 7. And today it has a visitor: the President of the United States. He has come to inspect Area 7, to examine its secrets for himself. But he’s going to get more than he bargained for on this trip. Because hostile forces are waiting inside…
Among the President’s helicopter crew, however, is a young Marine. He is quiet, enigmatic, and he hides his eyes behind a pair of silver sunglasses. His name is Schofield. Call-sign: SCARECROW. Rumour has it, he’s a good man in a storm. Judging by what the President has just walked into, he’d better be..
Camel Club (a group of four dysfunctional men who investigate political conspiracies) on the other hand is the third book in the best-selling Camel Club series from Baldacci’s kitty. Again, you can read them in no particular order.
Annabelle Conroy, an honorary member of the Camel Club, is also the greatest con artist of her generation. She has swindled forty million dollars from casino king Jerry Bagger, the man who murdered her mother. Now he’s hot on her trail with only one goal in mind: Annabelle’s death. But as Stone and the Camel Club circle the wagons to protect Annabelle, a new opponent, who makes Bagger’s menace pale by comparison, suddenly arises.
One by one, men from Stone’s shadowy past are turning up dead. Behind this slaughter stands one man: Harry Finn. To almost all who know him, Finn is a doting father and loving husband who uses his skills behind the scenes to keep our nation safe. But the other face of Harry Finn is that of an unstoppable killer who inevitably sets his lethal bull’s-eye on Oliver Stone. And with Finn, Stone may well have met his match.
As Annabelle and the Camel Club fight for their lives, the twists and turns whipsaw, leading to a finale that is as explosive as it is shattering. And when buried secrets are at last violently resurrected, the members of the Camel Club left standing will be changed forever.
If you liked the ones on this list you may also like to read, ‘The Contest’, ‘Temple’ and ‘Seven Ancient Wonders’ by Mathew Reilly, Jack Reacher series by Lee Child and ‘Night Fall’ by Nelson Demille.
I like surprises. The utter unpredictability of things. I dream sometimes of somnambulating to a parallel universe . Lost forever. Like in ‘The Lovely Bones’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘Inception’. I devour the heaviness of anticipation in the air. The dark clouds looming above, bearing uncertainty induced vapour waiting to engulf you – awash in its splendour. People find uncertainty unsettling. For me, the befuddlement that accompanies surprises is bittersweet. It’s climactic, as you fathom every detail around you. This new world – probably your perception of paradise. Bright. Sublime. Surreal. Colourful. Someone, somewhere gave a word for it. Phantasmagoria!
This is The Night Circus. This is the transcendental experience a book lover craves.
In a genre which boasts of some of the greatest writers in history and a perennial list of amateurs, Erin Morgenstern has certainly carved a niche for herself with her debut novel. The Night Circus is not as much a plot oriented novel as it is one that is solely propelled by its enrapturing writing style. Although a calculated balance of both -complementing each other- regards an exceptionally good novel, this here is an exception. Honestly, an abridgement of the plot would not particularly elicit the usual excitement to run to your book store and grab a copy. Hence, I shall refrain from extrapolating the plot and cut it short to a few lines. At the end, I shall tell you why you MUST read it anyway.
The Night Circus tells the magical tale of Celia and Marco – competitors, lovers. Bounded by a pact made by two rival magicians ‘Prospero the Enchanter’ (who trains Celia) and the enigmatic Mr. A.H (who trains Marco), in a game of endurance. A game, where only one survives, one victor. Sounds cliché? No. The story is not headed where you think. There is no combat here. In fact the players will be tried for their skills, magical competence, as they exhibit them in the most unlikely of venues. A not-so-ordinary-circus. The mystical ‘Le Cirque des Reves’. (You have to read the descriptions in the book. I will not even try and you’ll know why.) Celia, the Illusionist possesses control over the objective, the external while Marco over the subjective, the internal, the mind. Both players contribute to the wondrous aspects of the circus that beguile and enchant many. Their acts and illusions form the heartbeat of the circus. As they discover their love for each other the story takes a turn. Fate doesn’t exactly play out their way. The lives and dreams of many rests on them in a world created by them.
Here’s why you must pick this one:
1. Cover: The sparkling cover and the red coloured fore-edges of the text block would make you want to stare at it and thumb through the leaves for hours before you start the book. This book is not to be placed in a book shelf. Its presence is conspicuous. It shouts out for attention. Place it somewhere for everyone to see.
2. Blurb: The blurb is tantalisingly written. Flaring the good old Curiosity. The reason why I picked this up in the first place. Mysterious. Intriguing.
3 Writing Style: B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. Just how does she manage to describe something as trite as a circus so imaginatively? Every sequence is so meticulously detailed. You might have to pick up your fallen jaw as it unfolds in its entirety. Especially the scene at the Labyrinth and Celia’s auditions for the Circus (Personal Favourite)
There are not many flaws as far as I can deduce. If there were, they were perhaps obscured by the good parts of the novel. However, there is one flaw I’d like to specifically mention, which I think should not affect your opinion about the book, is the characterisation. I don’t suggest that the characters aren’t strong or influential. It isn’t much of a character driven book. Something I usually look for in books in this genre. The narrative skips alternatively to different characters in a very short time. You are compelled to turn a few pages back to figure out the character now in question. A few reviews berated the ending. I agree to a certain extent that the ending wasn’t particularly appealing. But, I don’t consider it a flaw.
Nevertheless, this book is a must read. It’s more of a visual spectacle than a literary phenomenon. It feeds your imagination and leaves you in a state of blissful abandon. Where there is no palpability of time. Just you and the plethora of possibilities your prolific mind conjures. I will read this again soon enough.
Note: Summit Entertainment has reportedly bought the rights for the motion picture adaptation says the wiki page. Hopefully, It can come close to capturing on the big screen, the magic on parchment. My choice of cast: Emma Watson\ Jennifer Lawrence as Celia and Ian Somerhalder\Rupert Grint as Marco.
“It’s not pride I’m feeling. It’s another sin. Worse than all the other ones, which are immediate, violent and hot. This one sits inside you quietly and eats you from the inside out. It’s the Eighth Deadly Sin. The one God left out. Hope.”
– A Northern Light, Jennifer Donnelly
Every once in a while you come across a book that you read ages ago and then on a whim you decide to read it again and end up loving it even more the second time. A Northern Light/ A Gathering Light (UK Edition) deserves more than just a read. It deserves implicit submission, a transcendental sublimation. Let the book take you where it wants to – the idyllic setting of the 1900’s, fields and farms, trees and barns, lakes and boats, buckboards and steam engines. Juxtapose this with an entrancing story and you have yourself one of the most beautiful novels ever written. Ensconce yourself in a comfortable place and let Mattie Gokey (the protagonist) do the talking.
Whenever I review a book, I always begin with the cover image. Yes, it does play a pivotal role. Before I begin reading, I want some allusion as to what I can expect from it or rather what I should not. The cover image of my copy shows a picture of a pale girl (presumably Mattie) bearing a melancholic countenance yet beautiful, staring into nothingness, interspersed with a picture of a placid lake. Picturesque is not the word! It’s only after I read the book did I comprehend the significance of the lake and the blanched face of this damsel.
Set in 1906, A Northern Light is a captivating story of 16-year-old Mattie Gokey, as she struggles with choices that would shape her life. After her mother succumbs to cancer, the onus of taking care of her father and 3 sisters fell on her – A promise she made to her mother on her death-bed, a promise to stay on the farm and help raise her three sisters. Helping her dad in the farm, ploughing the fields, milking and feeding the cows, the household chores and looking after her little sisters formed a major part of her daily routine.
Apart from her quotidian chores, she finds time to read, write and attend school, much to the dismay of the conformist society she belongs to. Not to forget her orthodox father who wreaks havoc if he, inasmuch gets a hunch of her activities. Mattie has a penchant for words, reading and writing. She aspires to be a writer someday. Aiding her in this dream is her teacher Miss Wilcox , having skeletons of her own. Mattie clears her tests and manages to get a scholarship to Barnard College, New York to pursue her high school diploma. Unfortunately, the stay and travelling expenses were beyond what her father could afford. Her dream was as far-fetched as it was before. Hope seemed nothing less than a mortal sin.
As the family strives to make ends meet, Mattie falls in love with her neighbour, Royal Loomis albeit reluctantly, and gets a job at Glenmore, a hotel nestled in the Adirondack Mountains. The story now weaves through the struggles of the other families in Eagle Bay, those of her friends. Whose lives are intertwined with Mattie’s. This disillusions Mattie to many a revelations about her town folk. Some vile and some virtuous.
The above narrative breaks into brusque spells of her stint at the Glenmore (the turning point in this novel which defines her future, her life. Don’t worry, no spoilers ahead).
One fine day, Grace Brown, a guest at the Glenmore entrusts Mattie with a bunch of letters to burn before she leaves on a jaunt on the lake with her companion Carl Grahm. Little did Mattie realise that this would be the last she would see of Grace alive. Grace Brown’s body was found ashore the next day. The boat which the couple sailed on reportedly tipped over, drowning them both. However, Carl Grahm’s body was not to be found.
Now in possession of the letters which were promised to be burnt away, Mattie’s curiosity got the better of her. As she read the letters one after the other she unravels a dark secret about Grace Brown to which she was now privy to. She found solace in those letters. It influenced her choices. her dreams, her future. It goaded her to take the most decisive step in her life, to leave everything behind, to say goodbye.
Mattie Gokey is a very strong, feisty character. She is flawlessly flawed. She yearns for emancipation and represents every girl who was once belittled for hoping, for pursuing her dreams. She is compassionate, empathetic loving and self-abnegating. The other characters are also instantaneously lovable. Their struggles are relatable. To commend the writing is beyond my verbal competence although I must add that Jennifer Donnelly was surely a surprise. I never heard of her works until I read this one. Every scene, every dialogue is heavy with so much emotion and eloquence. She ingeniously titles each chapter with a word that the protagonist learns in her quest for new words. The protagonist tries to use the new word in a sentence in light of the events of that day. It addresses a gamut of issues like infidelity, racism, discrimination against women, poverty etc. and how one endeavours to overcome them or at least tolerate them.
A story of life, lies and a lesson on living. This novel is by turns lyrical and liberating . It’s as if all this time you were shackled by some imperceptible chains when this book, like a divine apparition comes to your rescue. This book is everything I want a good book to be. A pleasant read on a pleasant day. Quaint and beautiful. I hope to catch more of Donnelly sometime soon.
“Right now I want a word that describes the feeling that you get–a cold sick feeling, deep down inside–when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don’t want it to, but you can’t stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were”
Disclaimer: This is more an exultation than a review. By no means do I, in my otherwise self-conferred privilege to opine on things in general, consider myself worthy to even think of writing a review for this film.
So, if I were to imagine this movie being directed, it would be something like this: David O. Russell wielding a baton, orchestrating a breathtaking emotional cadence like no other and Jennifer and Bradley swaying like figures in a musical trinket box.
David O. Russell prods you right where it hurts. That’s what I hate about a good movie; The vulnerability in lending your heart to the director. Submitting to his mercy. The director, who palpates it, wrenches it then like a palliating dose of anodyne gradually soothes the pain. Pain, which brings pleasure, peace, joy , happiness, laughter and a multitude of emotions.It is cathartic; therapeutic on several levels.
The storyline is simple, poignant and endearing. Nothing heavy or cerebral. It stays with you much after the credits roll; Pat Jr.(Bradley Cooper), diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, is released from a mental institution where he was held for assaulting his wife’s paramour. He moves back with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Then he meets Tiffany Maxwell ( Jennifer Lawrence) , a recovering sex addict, who turns everything around and how! I’m not going into the technicalities of the movie nor am I going to reveal the plot. I have half the world doing that.
Jennifer Lawrence is resplendent. So versatile, young yet precocious. A YouTube top comment read that if you were to snip off only her scenes from the movie, the snippets would make a movie in itself. That’s a performance. “Ravishing”, said a friend who detested her in The Hunger Games, and added how she could not take her eyes off her for a minute. She was dumbfounded, unable to fathom Jennifer play such a role. I don’t blame her considering the fact that we all remember her as Katniss Everdeen or Mystique. She won the Golden Globe for this film and I hope to god she wins the Oscar.
Bradley Cooper has evolved as an actor. He has finally progressed from slapsticks (The Hangover) and action (The A team) to something more sensible and emotionally stimulating- bagging him his first Oscar nomination. It’s sometimes very infuriating when persons with latent capabilities do not harness them or channel them adeptly. That was Bradley until Silver Linings Playbook.
Silver Linings Playbook, adapted from Mathew Quick’s bestseller with the same name, is seemingly a drama but it’s speckled with humour which will, in the least, definitely put a smile on your face if not roll you off your seats. Pat and Tiffany’s encounters are brimming with awkwardness, rawness and fervour. It’s delightful to watch them on screen. And as if this was not enough Jacky Weaver who plays Pat’s mom, Robert De Niro who plays his dad and Chris Tucker who plays Pat’s zany friend from the institution give equally impactful performances. It’s no wonder that the film won The Best Ensemble Cast in a recent award function.
Another aspect I really liked about this film is that there is nothing idealistic about the way in which relationships are portrayed. Relationships are tumultuous, people are capricious, we all have our share of ‘faux-pas’, OCD is something all of us struggle with, we all want a happy ending and we all search for a silver lining. Every scene and character is relatable, lovable. The scene at the Diner , the morning run-ins, Pat trying to pacify the irascible Tiffany, the dance sessions and of course the scene with Robert De Niro and Jennifer are some sequences you have to look out for.
Silver Linings Playbook is a happy film. Soulful and redemptive. It endorses optimism, EXCELSIOR, and makes you feel good about yourself. It’s filled with delectable moments and poignant dialogues. I cannot write a comprehensive review for this film. Words will fail me. However, I found a retweet by a friend which succinctly sums up everything I loved about the film.
“Sometimes we find ourselves clinging on to the one thing that’s breaking our hearts just so we don’t feel so alone. I love that the two main characters bonded over their heartache and healed each other in the process.”
Let me just say it. I’m sure that it WILL NOT win the Oscars considering the Academy’s inherent bias towards period films especially if it’s one that bespeaks of the most prominent figure of American History – Lincoln. Seriously AMPAS, get done with it already. Silver Linings Playbook is easily the best movie of the year.
“The only way to beat my crazy was by doing something even crazier. Thank you. I love you. I knew it from the moment I saw you. I’m sorry it took me so long to catch up.” – Pat
“I was a big slut, but I’m not any more. There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself.” – Tiffany