The new Robert Langdon thriller by Dan Brown. Due May 2013. Can’t wait.
“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
My disdain is for people in general. There I said it. For someone who is communicative in a reserved way – wary of offending witless, touchy, conceited sapiens – I consider this blatant confession quite an achievement. Lacking a word for a more sordid degree of antagonism, I abhor people. I detest the pettiness in people. I detest man and his whims. I detest his depravity. I detest his countless facades. I detest the parochial. I detest the silent spectator. I detest the diffident victim. I detest hypocrites, sycophants and the inauthentic. Over the years, in my more dawdling hours of surreptitious appraisal of people at train stations, malls, parties and other locations of mass public gathering, I have learnt a lot (or so I think), rendering many a vicarious acquaintance: The cheating husband, the scheming wife, the deceiver, the deceived, the licentious, the pervert, the virago, the megalomaniac and the fiend himself; the glint of relish in the eye of the beholder of such decadence. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. A rather cynical weltanschauung, purported to be a by-product of the proverbial vicissitudes of life.
I want to bring myself to condone such ‘acts’ as foibles we all possess. I want to trust man unhesitantly and I want it reciprocated. Yes, selflessness is utopian yet I yearn for an assurance that when misfortune strikes I have someone to help me assuage the situation: an unselfish act of kindness. I want man to be an assimilationist. I want man to lose his short-sightedness, to prise away from his fettered life. I want to live in a world where I don’t have to vie for acceptance, a self-deprecating endeavour in itself. A world where I can be unpretentious, genuine, ME.
Go ahead! Dub me a misanthrope. You’re free to judge inasmuch as I am free to dissent. (Let me admit nevertheless, hyperbolizing resentment – an ubiquitous disposition- is something you and I secretly cherish) A misanthrope has an all-pervasive, abject hatred toward Humans. I on the other hand consider this resentment a matter of infinite hope: the flickering incandescent flame of hope niched somewhere in the vestibules of our hearts. A flame suggestive of man’s infalllibilty, humanity, love, ingenuousness, individuality: traits, man was inherently meant to possess.
Wishful Thinking. Yes. Wistful of such things am I. Things, that I trust would one day emerge from the realm of infinite hope.
“Basically what we have here is a dreamer. Somebody out of touch with reality. When she jumped, she probably thought she’d fly”
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 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.
“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow
but if we are wise we know that there’s always tomorrow”
These timeless lyrics of the famous Bill Withers song resonate in my head as I lay still reminiscing the days gone by. It seems so trite, speaking of the past. We nonchalantly refrain from broaching it, conveniently pretending nothing happened. We advise our lovesick friends to move on while we still brood on this itch, arising intermittently. The days and hours we spend clawing this itch till it reddens, burns and scars. I presume by now you think this is some palliating write-up on ‘moving – on’. Well, call it that way, lest you wish to stop reading from this point.
For those of you who choose to resume let’s come back to the bone of contention; The Past. What is it about this four lettered disyllabic word that unnerves us? Why is it, that in a brief span of contemplation those moments, memories, instances, incidents which we wish to avoid, which we arduously try to conceal behind an imaginary curtain in the recesses of our mind, precipitate into this flow of thoughts; unebbed, unceasing? Many abortive attempts to dodge it, has perhaps only triggered its usherance. Doubtless, these thoughts parading in our heads are (mostly) those bitter ones which have indelibly punctuated our lives.
A small peek past this ‘curtain’ and Presto! Welcome to Melancholia!
Haven’t we had enough already? Haven’t the hours and days we have intemperately squandered, the bouts of insomnia and the alcohol binge (of course) vindicated us from this web of guilt and remorse, from our ‘faux pas’, from the words we have said, the things we have done?
About time we slough off this dead weight, an encumbrance that cleaves like a magnet. Life’s too short for trivialities; for worthless, unrewarding, guilty pensiveness, too short to bawl and drawl for you estranged lover, too short to hate and love your ‘neighbour’ and, more importantly, too short to despise yourself.
Self-love, Self-respect and Self-esteem;the three touchstones of Individuality, don’t mar it with Self-contempt.