Recommended Reads: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

15790842“What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?”  – Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

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-port_2508399b
Kate Atkinson

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.

Life-after-life-cover
New Skin

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. 


Advertisements

A Brief Exposition of the Characters of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

Tie-in-movie-edition-book-cover-pride-and-prejudice-23974255-310-475Even 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:

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet
Keira Knightley as 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:

Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy
Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. 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:

Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet
Rosamund Pike as 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:

Simon Woods as Charles Bingley
Simon Woods as 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:

Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins
Tom Hollander as Mr. 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:

Judi Dench as Lady Catherine
Judi Dench as Lady Catherine
Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley
Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley

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:

Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet
Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet
Mr Bennett
Donald Sutherland as Mr. 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:

Rupert Friend as Wickham
Rupert Friend as 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.

There have been 3 film adaptations of the book but the adaptation by Joe Wright known for award winning films like ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Atonement’ does a fairly good job at that. This coming from a book chauvinist like me who blindly prefers a book over its adaptation is saying something. He tastefully captures medieval England, in its breath-taking locales and settings with an eye for at most precision and detail. It boasts of an amazing star cast who easily render justice to their characters. The background score also is beyond amazing. Mathew and Keira are outstanding.

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. 

Top 5 List: Paperback Thrillers

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.

1. Ice Station by Mathew Reilly:144819

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.

Goodreads Blurb:

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:

204276Baldacci 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.

Goodreads Blurb:

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:

555310Now, 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’

Goodreads Blurb:

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:

7459164Yet 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.

Goodreads Blurb:

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:

9878095And 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.

Goodreads Blurb:

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..

 

627984Camel 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.

Goodreads Blurb:

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.

Recommended Reads: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

images (5)

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
― Erin MorgensternThe Night Circus

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.

“The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”
― Erin MorgensternThe Night Circus

Recommended Reads: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

A-Northern-Light

“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).

tumblr_lqw5ebtTqc1qh239s

I know it is a bad thing to break a promise, but I think now that it is a worse thing to let a promise break you.”
― Jennifer DonnellyA Northern Light

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.

images (2)

“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” 

― Jennifer DonnellyA Northern Light/A Gathering Light

Recommended Reads: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

the-virgin-suicides-poster

“Basically what we have here is a dreamer. Somebody out of touch with reality. When she jumped, she probably thought she’d fly”

― Jeffrey EugenidesThe Virgin Suicides

Stupefied. Stunned. Spellbound. Held in such a fatal degree of stupor I must frequently remind myself to breathe. This moment, this feeling right now is one of sheer unfathomable joy; euphoric, to be precise. The rarefied elation on witnessing an enchanting novel unspool in this brilliance of a film. The Virgin Suicides is arguably one of the finest adaptations of the last decade and indisputably one of the most compelling novels of this epoch. I chanced upon the novel when it appeared as a recommendation on Goodreads. Then, a dear friend (An ‘art film’ lover, her film palate is rather quirky) told me about the film. Habitually, I always read the book before I watch the film.

The cover page (five withering roses arrayed against the colour of yellowed parchment), a premonition of the reverie I was to delve into.the-virgin-suicides The novel revolves around the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters; Cecilia (aged 13), Lux(14), Bonnie(15), Mary(16) and Therese(17); Chaperoned by a martinet of a mother and an uxorious gauche of a father; both being religious, over-protective and overtly punctilious. Written in third person perspective, it narrates the incidents from the eyes of a bunch of sprightly teenage boys furtively observing the Lisbon girls – every move, every breath, and investigating the reasons which drove them to take such drastic steps. So entranced and obsessed were they by the beauty of the 5 goddesses, a mere glimpse of them sent chills down their spine. Their frail, lithe bodies, pale, rouged cheeks, rounded derrieres, golden locks of hair fluttering in the shallow breeze only fuelled the boys’ (and the reader’s) ever-escalating attraction towards them. The author ingeniously gives a subject as mundane and disquieting as Suicide an air of sublimity: ‘The essence of suicides consisted not of sadness or mystery but simple selfishness. The girls took into their own hands decisions better left to god. They became too powerful to live among us, too self-concerned, too visionary, too blind.’

A Master Novelist, Eugenides’s writing style is inexplicably eloquent, seemingly poetic and surreal, illuminating his flair and finesse. This is evidenced by some prominent quotes in the book;

“What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.”

“We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.”

Apart from a strong plot and characterization, Eugenides alludes to the malice inflicting society; media propaganda, radical rectitudinous, bad parenting, alarming teen suicide rates etc. This is artfully brought to the fore with the deaths of the Lisbon girls and the void they left behind in the lives of the people.

The film directed by Sofia Coppola is a facsimile of the novel only reproduced as a motion picture with no annoying improvisations or digressing ends as is very commonplace with screen adaptations. Coppola’s exactitude with the characters and plot captures the essence of the novel which is commendable. The film’s gauzy-vintage feel makes the experience vicarious – reliving the glory years. The casting is superlative; from Josh Hartnett as the charming Trip Fontaine to Kirsten Dunst as the sultry Lux Lisbon

LUX LISBON! I’d be damned if I do not give a special mention to this character and to Kirsten who embodies her allure, promiscuity, callowness and alacrity. Her role has left indelible imprints on my inner eyelids titillating wakeful nights. It’s no wonder that Eugenides uses epithets like “Succubus” and “Naiads” to describe the Lisbon siblings. All of whom seem like an immaculate ethereal manifestation.

Both, the film and the book, are timeless, out of this world, sublime. However, The Virgin Suicides is not just a novel or a film but an ode to the glorious adolescent years.

Read it. Watch it. Cherish it.

the_virgin_suicides_profilelarge

– S