After ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, a top best-seller, comes ‘Girl on a Train’. A journalist meets a troubled young woman on a train who is later found to have committed suicide. Our protagonist is certain that it is not suicide and sets out to investigate. The story proceeds at a reasonable pace till the middle of the book but then starts going around in circles. The worst part is the end – that has a poor rationale and is difficult to believe. In fact, believability is an issue with other parts of the book too. Doesn’t quite add to the pace and suspense of Hawkins’ book.
Recommendation: Stick with the original best-seller.
Rahul meets Avantika and they fall in love. Rahul’s little daughter takes to Avantika big time. Then Avantika vanishes suddenly and the writer takes us on the journey of Rahul’s first marriage. How did Rahul and Shalini meet, how they married and then broke up. It is a simple, single-layer story that doesn’t go anywhere much – but still it’s not too bad and I found it engaging. However, what kills the book is the writing – cliché ridden, tacky and repetitive. It is better than some of the current best sellers in India but not by much.
Recommendation: Don’t bother.
We have all seen movies that are so bad, they make you laugh. However, I don’t remember a book like that. Thank God for that because books are a much bigger investment of time. The Contract, though, clearly qualifies in that category. The plot line has gaping holes, the characters bellow and lament at the slightest provocation and the protagonist’s motivations are strangely narcissistic. It is so bad that if you didn’t laugh, you’d have to cry. Juan grows up in a contract-killer family in Columbia (even though the setting is so bleak you have to rely on the writer’s word for it). He decides to take the honest road against the family traditions, turns to crime mid-way as the honest road doesn’t pay, and then repents in the end. The protagonist’s turnaround in the end is completely irrational and un-understandable. The writer takes pride that no research has gone into the book and the reader is left wondering what did he do to deserve something so banal and tasteless.
Recommendation: Of course, not.
Burnt Shadows is a beautiful story of the enmeshed lives of two families in turbulent times. It starts with the Nagasaki bombing and ends after the fall of twin towers – traveling through India’s partition, Pakistan’s support of Mujahideens fighting the Russians in Afghanistan and then the post-9/11 situation in both US and Afghanistan. Shamsie take us through all these crazy times and the captures the mood and the sentiments of the history beautifully; a hint of Khaled Hosseini there. Since the story stays deeply personal at all times, you can feel the impact of these remarkable times on characters and their actions. Written sensitively and presenting opposing viewpoints masterfully, the book raises questions about right and wrong, race relations, prejudices and religion and leaves the reader with a powerful perspective that has the ability to challenge pre-conceived beliefs.
I read poetry after a long time and enjoyed it. Nair’s poems are short, everyday, and fun. As with any other collection, the quality varies; there are good ones and those that are not so good. But most were enjoyable – very today, fresh and thoughtful. My only complaint – Nair is a stickler for rhyming and sometimes it is limiting – the result can be childish at times. Rhyming is her strong point and rhyming poetry is easy on the eyes but not beyond a point.
A Booker short-list, ‘A Little Life’ is an extraordinarily sad story of an orphan. Jude St. Francis who suffers through abuses all his childhood and never recovers from them as an adult. It is a moving story indeed and the shows the good and bad of the world in equal parts. Even though the book starts as the story of four friends, it quickly focuses on one of them and the novel becomes his story. However, there are major flaws in the story line. For example, not clear why Brother Luke kidnapped Jude out of the monastery. If abuse was the objective, it could have been accomplished in the monastery too; he was being abused there anyway. Then the twist of Jude’s straight friend Williem suddenly developing feelings of Jude and their becoming lovers. Not very believable. The book is also way too long and tends to be repetitive. A thousand cuts on the arms and the legs, the same friends meeting for dinner at a Sushi places a hundred times, Jude’s constantly losing weight – after a point start getting on your nerves. My verdict: No. A good story but not a good read.
The long time best-seller that deserves it’s place on the list. Rachel admires a young couple, everyday, from her seat in the train as the train passes by their house. The woman suddenly goes missing and then begins the tale of their lives enmeshing in an unexpected way that involves Rachel’s ex husband, his current wife and the missing woman’s husband. Essentially, a whodunit, but told in a brisk-paced, refreshing and engaging manner. A page-turner, if there was one. The time movements – the past and the present – worked out very well. A good read indeed.
Recommendation: Must read.