We are generally fascinated by out of ordinary characters who behave and speak differently than all of us and hence stand out. If you remembered a dozen of your favorite book characters, a number of them would fall in that category. Eleanor Oliphant is an attempt at such a character. I say an attempt because it doesn’t work for me for several reasons – the inconsistencies within the character and unbelievability. And liking Eleanor Oliphant has to be obviously central to liking the book. So, the bestseller and soon-to-be movie didn’t work for me. Sure, there is some humor in the writing and the pace is good, the overall writing is not great. The punch-in-the-gut ending was a bit predictable. A few recent mystery novels, ‘The Woman in the Window’ most notably have followed the same line of thought.
‘There There’ is a remarkable debut indeed. Tommy Orange picks the threads of stories of a number of native Indian characters who have chosen to live in Oakland and other urban areas, rather than reservations. The book traces their lives, knitting them all together towards the end. It is an insightful window into the challenges of a troubled community, haunted by its painful past, and confronted by an uncertain future. However, the book scores not only because of its unique cast of characters, but also strong writing. The only flaw – too many, just too many characters. Despite the author’s valiant efforts, it’s difficult for the readers to remember all the stories and back all the protagonists.
Sapiens is a highly engaging book about the history of homo-sapiens from the hunter-gatherer days to cognitive revolution to agricultural revolution to the industrial and scientific revolution to modern times. The book even offers a peek into what lies ahead for this variety of ape. The book challenges many myths (Agricultural revolution was an improvement over hunter-gatherer days, for instance), provides many interesting statistics (more people have died in road accidents than wars) and expound on some astounding theories (home sapiens may become a-mortal by 2050), and all of it is done in a compelling, engaging, thoughtful way that forces you to seriously consider the argument. It’s a bit slow in parts and does not follow a clear structure, but is a fantastic read nonetheless.
Murder mysteries and detective fiction is not quite my thing, but I wanted to read Chandler. Writing gurus laud Chandler as the ultimate vivid writer – a magician in capturing visuals. Sample the opening para of the book cited often in the writing books. “It was about eleven o’clock…I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with a dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well dressed private detective ought to be…there was a broad stained glass panel showing a dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on, but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the visor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he wasn’t fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying”
How’s that for imagery and humor! Amazing indeed. However, the eye for detail, gets a bit tiresome, surprisingly, particularly if not accompanied by humor. A simple enough mystery, a few twists and turns – but nothing to shock you out of your socks. Fast paced, witty and humorous. Written over fifty years ago, it can’t compete with the complex mysteries of today. I’d rather read Chandler’s quoted texts in the writing books.
I knew it was an illustrated book and so there wouldn’t be much to it, yet a Khaled Hosseini book was difficult to pass. However, I hadn’t realized how little there would be to it. It is essentially one poem, and not a very long one either, that is written over several pages of illustrations. Disappointing.
Read only, if you want to support the cause – the proceeds go towards helping Syrian refugees.
It is indeed the true stories that make for the strangest of fiction. “Before We Were Yours” tells an engaging true story of poor, disadvantaged children being sold to rich, privileged families. The sordid details of Tennessee Children Home are indeed provocative and disturbing. The narrative style of the book – two protagonists, one in the present, the other in the past – works well and the relationship between the two slowly becomes obvious. The writing is fine, but the pace could be quicker. What also doesn’t work for me is the build-up of the suspense not leading to something mind-boggling, a long tail that wasn’t required, and an unnecessary love angle.
Roy, a black American, is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. His young wife, Celestial, and his best friend Andre, and Roy’s parents fight to get him released. However, in the five years that Roy is away, the dynamics between Celestial and Andre change, and when Roy gets out, his world is quite different from how he had imagined it to be.
Let’s start with what doesn’t work in the book. First, the story is too simple, a love triangle at the end really, and second, the book ends with a whimper. The climax is weak. What works for the book is the powerful writing, the insightful characterization, and the distinctive POV of the three main characters. Roy’s state of mind while in jail, Celestial’s evolution, and their slightly twisted, sweet-salty love is captured really well. It is a lovely reading experience.