Swimming Home

Deborah Levy

It is my second Deborah Levy book, Hot Milk being the first. I am a fan.

The central character is a beautiful girl who is unstable and anorexic, who often wanders around naked and is an agent of change for a family holidaying in a french vacation house. It is the famous english poet’s family who must read this new beautiful albeit eccentric guest’s poem. (Levy never gives away the poem.) In this pursuit everyone’s universe is shaken up and fears met. In a way the unrevealed poem is the central character. I wish Deborah Levy, at some point, reveales the full poem that Kitty wrote.

It is unfair to compare her to another writer. The characters are well realised and don’t leave you even after the book ends. The strength of this book is the ease with which she straddles the real and imaginary world where lines are blurred and thoughts float free. I have never before felt the impact of repeated passages as I did in Swimming Home. Addictive, literary, unprecedented is how I would describe Swimming Home. Sample this:

” The unwelcome tears continued to pour out of him just as they had poured out of Kitty Finch in the orchard full of suffering trees and invisible growling dogs. He must apologise for not stamping on his own desires, for not fighting it all the way”

 

Advertisements

Normal People

Sally Rooney

Is Sally Rooney for real? How is she so young, wise and unhurried all at once?

This book is like one of it’s characters – Connell. It is structured in a linear progressive fashion, the chapters are titled “Three Months Later”, “Six Months Later”, “Five Minutes Later” and so on but what goes on inside the chapters is a lot of looping back and forth, reminiscing and introspecting. It is unhurried and sensitive with a deeply intelligent core. The story is of Marriane and Connell, school time buddies who live parallel lives until the end of the book. They cannot be too close or too far apart yet are bonded together in spiritual love.

Marriane is a strong headed girl who knows her mind and her heart. She has a minor masochistic streak that takes her down a dark path briefly only to be rescued by her eternal friend. She has a problematic albeit rich family that just cannot give her the human treatment she longs for. She is real, likeable and masterfully fleshed out. The real achievement of this book, though, is Connell. A boy who is intelligent, self-assured, extremely comfortable in his own skin yet so vulnerable at the hands of Marianne and his own feelings for her. More men like Connell is what the world desparately needs right now. His love for Marriane is healing in nature whereas Marriane’s love for Connell has a spiritual/devotional quality. It is a story of how two people loving each other can make the world a better place and how one can fly, fall and be rescued by the same love that seldom finds a definiton.

This book belongs right up there, with the best of the best.

 

A Year in Provence

Peter Mayle

A fifty something couple with their two dogs decide to move to Provence, France. They want to remodel their newly bought 200 year old farmhouse and along the way they discover the local way of life and the quirks of its people. Most of the book is about the house and the works around it. The details about the eating habits of the people of Provence and the food served in restaurants is very charming and is the book’s real strength. The chapters are divided into months and the seasonal changes of this beautiful region of France are extremely enjoyable to imagine. The time in Provence is measured in seasons, not days.

Money is clearly not a problem for Mayle, it is quite a first world book in that sense. Laying petty jealousies aside, there is a lot to like here if one manages to overlook its self-indulgent tone. On the downside, the book lacks a sense of adventure, it also lacks rather conspicuously a sense of unpredictability that one comes to expect with any form of travel writing. It is probably the age and the financial securities of Mayle that looks at adventure in a different, more convenient way where it is restricted to gastronomic and behavioural. It is a charming book nonetheless and I would recommend it strongly to the armchair travellers.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Mark Manson

It is a very smart title to begin with. This title has made it seem okay for people to read this book who are otherwise worried about their image if ever caught reading a self-help book. This book, at the end of the day is just that, a self-help book just like any other good self-help book that in its time has been a bestseller. There is a pattern to be uncovered here: every few years a book will come by that will tell you how to live by the exact same priniciples as the last one, only making it sound cooler this time. Full marks to Mark Manson for having exploited that market. I am not saying that it is bad book, all I am saying is that it wouldn’t be what it is without the “F” word.

The principles of decluttering your brain, being committed and enjoying it, saying no at the right time, having values that are unique to your personality and essentially being a good human being have all been written about successfully before. You could slam the ones that have spoken about it in an optimistic manner because apparently that’s not cool anymore. Let me tell you that it’s a retelling of the same tale from the other end of the tunnel, with naysay being the hero carrying an F word weapon. One of these books must read in a lifetime and the more it is palatable to the young, the better. I , thus, recommend it.

Sputnik Sweetheart

Haruki Murakami

SS is a tale of unrequited love. Sumire loves Miu, a girl much older than her. K, the narrator loves Sumire. K is a bibliophile like Sumire but Sumire is also an emotionally distraught wannabe writer. Their telephonic conversations are the best thing about this book. Miu is a sophisticated enterpreneur and eventually a travel companion to Sumire who had her hair turn pure white overnight. This is where magical realism kicks in. Murakami’s descriptions of urban life are graphic. His western obsessions and the glorification of otherwise mundane details are at play again.

Murakami’s prose is lucid and easy going but I have a feeling that something important is lost in translation here. His heart seems to be in a soft space in the way he weaves in pure emotions in problematic realtionships. The love and heartbreak are not intense but are dealt with, with a casual this-too-shall-pass attitude. I wish for more intensity at crucial times but the subtely works in most situations, sample this:

”Who can really distinguish between the sea and what’s reflected in it? Or tell the difference between the falling rain and loneliness?”

I am yet to read more Murakami but I know it in my bones that this is not his best.

 

 

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl

Something inside my head has permanently changed after reading this book. A switch that I always knew existed has been turned on. My only regret is that I should have read it sooner. No book is small enough for me, I took a week to imbibe it. A fruitful week it was.

Viktor Frankl is a psychiatrist, a neurologist, the founder of logotherapy and a holocaust survivor. His description of the four concentration camps that he has been to and survived is nothing short of nightmarish. His descriptions are detached and objective. You doubt if you would’ve given up instead of finding meaning to life in that situation. Human behaviour is hard to predict in such extreme situations and Frankl divides human beings ultimately into only two races, decent and indecent.

The part two of the book is about logotherapy and his idea of meaning. He describes several case studies to elucidate how it works. The takeaway is a very basic and important one, it is that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. An abiding quote from the book that should be engraved into every public instituion is :

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.”

Pinball,1973

Haruki Murakami

Pinball is a sequel to Hear the Wind Sing. There is “you” who lives with identical twins this time, who finally return to a place they know as mysteriously as they came in. You works as a translator in his office which he co-owns with a friend. He falls in love with a Three-flipper Spaceship version of Pinball machine on which he once scored a 165,000. The machine suddenly goes missing when the gaming arcade is replaced by a doughnut shop with bad coffee. “You” traces the machine to a chilly warehouse with a lot of help and bids the pinball machine an emtional farewell.

Rat has a girl and then he loses her. There is J the bartender from China who is doing his thing again but he is more vulnerable this time. Rat decides to leave the town and finds it hard to inform J of his decision, he finally does. Rat drives away in the end, to a smaller town. Beer,cigarette and coffee flow throughtout the book.

There is nothing remarkable about this book. The feelings of loneliness and the mundane are prevalent despite more characters this time. There is some good writing in an  inimitable style. Sample this:

“If I stuck gardenias in my ears and flippers on my hands some people might stop and turn around. But that would be it. Three steps more and they would already have forgotten me. Their eyes saw nothing, not a damn thing. And mine were no different. I felt empty. Maybe I had nothing left to give.”