Tag Archives: books

What Molly knew by Tim Keegan

8 Aug

This is one of the stories nominated for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing. Molly is a middle aged white woman in South Africa married to an abusive and alcoholic husband, Rollo. He is a man who has a multitude of expectations from his wife:

There were things he expected from a wife, and crying and complaining and carrying on weren’t amongst them.

He always expected dinner to be ready when he came.

To add insult to injury, her daughter, Sarah, has just been murdered.

It is interesting that the first suspect is Tommie, Sarah’s husband. Molly comes to the conclusion that it has to be him, otherwise who else would it be? Sarh had no enemies, she reasons. Now, Sarah married Tommie against her mother’s and Rollo’s wishes. It so turns out that Tommie is from Mozambique and also a psychologist who knows “how to convince people”.

Initially, I sympathised with Molly because, hey, loosing an only child is not easy. Later on however, I sort of got angry at her for her “what can I do attitude”. First of all, she stays in an abusive marriage because she has nowhere else to go. The night she tells him of her daughter’s murder, he is so unfeeling as to be unable even to console his wife. (Sarah is not his daughter). Later on, she mentions that she would like to go to a memorial service for Sarah because it might be the only chance to say goodbye to her. His reaction?

Rollo snorted, stuffing pork sausage into his mouth, washing it down with a Castle straight from the bottle, but didn’t say anything more.

My anger peaked when she finds a letter in the garbage incriminating Rollo in the crime. Since, she doesn’t want to “upset” her life, she calmly takes it and burns it and proceeds to fix dinner and wait for Rollo, just like she had always done!

I’m hoping that the rest of the stories in the book To see the mountain and other stories will help abate the anger and frustration inside!

Courting Miss Lancaster

6 Aug

Courting Miss Lancaster is a light, delightful and humorous read set in the regency period. Miss Athena Lancaster is the Duke of Kilder’s sister-in-law who is really looking forward to having a season and thereby be swept off her feet by the man of her dreams. Except that she is yet to meet him.

Harry Windover is the Duke’s best friend who has been entrusted with fielding off would be fortune hunters from Miss Lancaster’s path. Obviously, he grows rather too fond of her and more obviously, his estate is in need of extensive repairs.

His plan, as she doesn’t have any ready-made list of characteristics she is looking for in a husband, is to introduce her to all manner of men who he’s sure she will never care for. This, he thinks, will buy him time in order to be as long as possible in her presence. It is superfluous to say that his plan backfires wildly and puts the events into a climax.

I liked this book because of the humour of the characters. Henry is at the top of the list, with his influence on all the members of the family, albeit each in a different manner. His exchanges with his friend the Duke are laced with irony, with Athena compassion and I cannot help myself from laughing at her naïveté.  She does not even realize that she is in love!

“I have found that sometimes a person is the last to know when she is in love. One’s heart does not always share its secrets with one’s mind.” Athena’s sister Persephone saves the day.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

29 Apr

We seek him here, we seek him there,scar
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.

(A verse about the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel)

This is an adventure novel that reminded me of The count of Monte Cristo.

Lady Blackeney is 24 years old. A Frenchwoman, she is married to an Englishman, Sir Percy. She has only one brother, Armand.

The book is set in the French revolution, when the French sent hundreds of aristocrats to the guillotine each day. A mysterious English nobleman, the Scarlet Pimpernel, with his friends, (the league of the scarlet pimpernel) is helping the estranged French nobles cross the channel to find a safe haven in England.

Chauvelin, the French agent, is desperately looking for the Scarlet Pimpernel. He confronts Marguerite (Lady Blackeney) and shows her a letter incriminating her beloved brother Armand, proving that he is in league with the Pimpernel. Chauvelin offers to trade Armand’s life for her help against the Pimpernel. Contemptuous of her seemingly witless and unloving husband, Marguerite does not go to him for help or advice. Instead, she passes along information which enables Chauvelin to learn the Pimpernel’s true identity.

Later that night, Marguerite finally tells her husband of the terrible danger threatening her brother and pleads for his assistance. Percy promises to save him. After Percy unexpectedly leaves for France, Marguerite discovers to her horror that he is the Pimpernel. He had hidden behind the persona of a dull, slow-witted fop in order to deceive the world.

Desperate to save her husband, she decides to pursue Percy to France to warn him that Chauvelin knows his identity and his purpose. But the weather is too rough to cross over to France.  She must wait. Will she arrive in time? Will she be able to find her husband? What if Chauvelin strikes first?

I think that one can only fully appreciate the drama by reading the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Favourites

17 Apr

I came across this post from a fellow book lover, which exactly expresses my feelings.

I'm a Book Lover and Proud!

Favourites

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The novel-after feeling

14 Apr
loss and gain

A philosophical novel written after Newman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism

Yesterday I finished reading Loss and Gain by Henry Newman, and as I write this, I have just finished Prince Caspian. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t just read books, but Lewis’ book is an afternoon read. In fact, it is a children’s book. After all the theological dose in Loss and Gain, I needed something light.

But I am more or less in the same frame of mind as after I finished Loss and Gain. Time seems to stand still. After reading the last page, I find myself thrown rudely into reality. (This happens to me after every book I read). My head kind of throbs. I need  time to take in the fact that now I am in the real world and that the book characters and all that happened is imaginary. It is almost the same kind of feeling as the end of a movie, seeing the credits with nice music, and then bang!, someone switches on the lights and you stare at the blue screen in shock and disbelief.

What to do? Go on with life? Get another book to immerse oneself in? Wouldn’t it  be nice if there was no TIME? I mean, we could enjoy a good book forever? It sounds like a joke, I know. But I don’t know what to do about my throbbing head.

Anyone got ideas?

The last chronicle of Barset

12 Apr

149789This is the last of the Barsetshire tales. It is so hard to keep flipping the pages knowing that at some point, one will flip for the last time. Many of the characters are already familiar: The archdeacon and his family, the bishop of Barchester and his wife Mrs. Proudie, the humble abode of the perpetual curate at Hogglestock, the Framleys etc. The clergy of the Church of England is Trollope’s specialization.

The story centres on the alleged theft of a cheque of £20, by none other than the Rev. Josiah Crawley. Everyone is keen to unravel or take advantage of the mystery. Old family rivalries are renewed, friendships are strengthened, and lovers find comfort in each other and hope for the best. It is indeed a trying courtship between Major Grantly, whose sister married a Lord and Grace Crawley, whose father has been accused of stealing the cheque of £20.

John Eames, who we left heartbroken in The small house at Allington for his unsuccessful bid for Lily Dale, makes a final effort to win the lady of his dreams. I must admit that I expected things to go differently. Why can’t Lily learn to forget the past i.e. to forget Adolphus Crosbie’s jilt and agree to live her life and not dwell on what could have been?

As for Crawley, how sweetly the reader relishes his triumph on Mrs. Proudie. She is absolutely domineering, she is the bishop. But here comes a pauper, almost disgraced in the face of men, who is able to tell to her face what everyone thought about her all along! The ending in this regard is no surprise, but it is dramatic.

antt

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

Anthony Trollope had this to say about the book:

I regard this as the best novel I have written. I was never quite satisfied with the development of the plot, which consisted in the loss of a cheque, of a charge made against a clergyman for stealing it, and of absolute uncertainty on the part of the clergyman himself as to the manner in which the cheque found its way into his hands…. I have never been capable of constructing with complete success the intricacies of a plot that required to be unraveled.I agree it is well written. I could hardly keep down the book. Both Trollope and some of his later critics have considered The Last Chronicle to be his greatest novel. I am no literary critic, but among his books, I like Doctor Thorne best.

Are there any Trollope fans out there?

Review: The picture of Dorian Gray

10 Apr

5297 When I finished reading the book I thought: Did I just read a book about ugliness? Did I just read a book about inner ugliness, which is worse? I felt like throwing up. The question I asked myself, and I still do is: why was this book written?

Dorian Gray is a beautiful fashionable young man whose is idolized by his friend Basil, a painter. Through Basil, Dorian gets to meet Lord Henry, a fact that Basil regrets bitterly. The book is all about Lord Henry’s influence on Dorian who ultimately “sells” his soul for eternal youth and beauty.

The picture of Dorian Gray was obviously written for a purpose. In fact, it is Oscar Wilde’s only novel. Much can be said about it in the literary sense: themes of beauty, art, friendship; symbols such as the painting and the yellow book etc. Much has been said about its connection with the author’s life. I wonder if I am not making things worse be still saying something about it.

Try as I can, it is difficult to forget the book. There are the almost hypnotizing phrases that issue from Lord Henry’s mouth that leave one dumbfounded. True, Lord Henry is Dorian’s corrupter, but it is amazing to see Wilde’s argument put so beautifully together. Lord Henry manages to convince him to live his life according to his maxim of pleasure, pursuit of art etc.

As Dorian goes from bad to worse, there is almost no hope for him. The reader would like to stop reading; the stench of foul things is perhaps too much to bear. It seems as though the book is a glorification of the pursuit of pleasure at whatever cost.

However, I don’t think that that is the reason for the book. In the last chapter, there is this sentence: It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayed for. But for those two things, his life might have been free from stain. His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, an unripe time, a time of shallow moods, and sickly thoughts. Why had he worn its livery? Youth had spoiled him.

Youth. A mystery. A gift. A curse perhaps? Each one makes it what they would. But as far as the book is concerned, I can breathe easily. The sentence quoted above restored the hope that I had almost lost.

Little women by Louisa May Alcott

11 Dec

I’ve just finished reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was such a delight. The story is simple: four little girls growing up and finding their feet in the world. But such simple plot is told in such sweetness and truth that the reader wipes the tears that gather as he closes the last page.

Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March are as different as north is from south. Meg with her motherly instinct guards all the girls; Jo, a tomboy is always frolicking around with her friend Laurie and doing “larks”; Beth, always happy to be calm and to mind the others; and little Amy is the model of propriety. Even their talents are very diverse; Meg is a natural homemaker, Jo writes, Beth is sweetness itself and Amy plays and draws. Yet, they get on so well together, that it seems a miracle, until we discover their mother’s hand in the not so little miracle.

Grow up they must, and face the world, but only after facing their little battles within. They flourish beautifully, and their families at the end of the book are a real work of art. It is what I call a really GOOD story, in the real sense of the word and I thank the little Marches for such a delightful read. Truly, the story went straight to my heart, to be cherished forever!

Review: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

18 Nov

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If I could summarize the story of the three musketeers in five words, they would be adventure, valour, power, love and revenge.

Set in the 17th century, it recounts the adventures of a young man, d’Artagnan after he leaves home to travel to Paris, to join the Musketeers of the Guard. He befriends Athos, Porthos and Aramis, who are musketeers.

The book is in a way, historical. At least the circumstances in which the story is told are historical. Cardinal Richelieu controls the politics of France. The king (Louis XIII) would like to get rid of him but can’t. The queen, Anne of Austria, loves another man, the duke of Buckingham and the cardinal is trying to expose her to the king.

But it is not just about love affairs, it is rather how those affairs have the power to influence the fate of nations. Buckingham himself states that is the queen of France were to desire it, he would betray his own country. It is the age of chivalry, when men risked death and worse to get a smile from lady-love.

In case romance is not your cup of tea, breathe easy, the book is much more than that. It is adventure packed where D’Artagnan along with his three friends must unite and defeat a beautiful double agent and her villainous employer from seizing the French throne and engulfing Europe in war.

The three musketeers is a perfect thriller!

A book for a gift

14 Nov

It has been a long time since I last updated this blog. My sister Phui has kindly called my attention to this fact. Talking of my sister, she has also recently given me a book for a gift, knowing my love for books. Thanks a lot dear sis!

The book is entitled “The devil that danced on the water” by Aminata Forna.

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It tells the story of her search for the truth of her father’s fate, Mohamed Forna, who had been told that for Africa “politics and violence are inseparable”. Her father abandoned his medical career to enter into the volatile politics of Sierra Leone in the 1960’s. A brilliant and impeccable man, he became finance minister under Siaka Stevens, the then president.

As I am still reading the book, a complete review is impossible at this point!

But a promise is a promise, a review is coming once I have finished reading. At least I owe that much to my dear sis!