Category Archives: Books

‘The Siege of Krishnapur’ : A Review

JG Farrell was only forty-four when he died in a fishing accident- considering his tremendous talent and the amount of insight he brought to his books, it was a genuine tragedy.

He is perhaps most well known for his Empire trilogy, which consisted of Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip– novels about British colonialism and its effects on the colonies.

I read his Booker Prize winning Troubles a few months ago and found it extremely riveting. Though I had only a basic idea of Ireland’s problems with Britain, the lack of a proper background wasn’t a problem as I read Farrell’s excellent novel about the Troubles of Northern Ireland. One thing that I’d definitely vouch for is Farrell’s ability to entrance and keep the reader engrossed; not for one moment did I feel my attention waver, and finishing one of his books always makes me feel as if I were being torn away from a world I’ve learnt to know and love, despite all its faults.

I have just finished The Siege of Krishnapur. It was a strange coincidence that I read it during the week which, 154 years ago, marked the start of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 (only realising it later). The trouble started on 10 May, 1857, when a group of sepoys rebelled against the army of the British East India Company in Meerut. Discontent had long been simmering for various reasons, and the last straw came in the form of the new Enfield rifles whose paper cartridges had to be bitten off before use; the paper was supposedly greased with animal fat, which was an affront to religious sentiments. The unrest as Meerut spread gradually to various areas, including Lucknow, Kanpur and other parts of northern and central India. Farrell writes an account of the defence at a town called Krishnapur (is it the Krishnapur of West Bengal’s Hooghly district?)- as I have always viewed the Great Rebellion from an Indian perspective, it was interesting, for a change, to see it with British (or Irish, to be more apt) eyes.

The Collector of Krishnapur senses trouble, and he begins setting up fortifications around the Residency in the form of much laughed-at ‘mud walls’; the British population in Calcutta is amused at his caution as he goes visiting various important people to advise them of the brewing trouble. His warnings are not taken seriously, but he perseveres with the fortification of the Residency, thus dividing the British in the area into two groups, those who are for caution and those for assault.

Gradually, though, in the face of the mounting attack from the Indian sepoys, the Britishers are forced into shelter at the Residency, turning the place upside down with their various possessions scattered about amidst the Collector’s prized trophies from the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park. The women are herded into the once-serene billiard room, while the others occupy various other nooks and corners. That the situation outside the walls of the Residency is delicate and there will be a paucity of food and water does not bother its refugees; they persist in maintaining their class distinctions. Petty fights break out among the women over the use of the one maid available; they persist in ostracising the ‘fallen woman’ who has been talked out of committing suicide and been persuaded to take shelter in the Residency.

Farrell’s skill is evident in the strength of the characters, each of them being endowed with just the right attributes that serve to make them what they are, leading to their glory or doom. No one is absolutely good or bad, but in fact possesses the mixture of qualities so apparent in people all around. The Collector, struggling with the need to stay composed in the face of adversity, maintains a tenuous relationship with the cynical Magistrate. The doctors Dunstaple and McNab are diametrically opposite in nature; the one happily kind and comforting, the other a dour Scotsman, the tension between them reaching a climax as one of them goes into decline. Louise Dunstaple and newly-widowed Miriam Fleury forge a friendship based on necessity, grudgingly accepting the ‘fallen’ Lucy Hopkins and fearing the attraction she exerts on the men of the cantonment. Harry Dunstaple, young and eager to find himself in the middle of action, finds his lot thrown in with the poetic George Fleury, to whom everything must take the shape of words, and who tries to demonstrate his love for Louise as well as he can in the rather constrained circumstances.

The most haunting character, the one that really lingered on in my head, was that of the Padre: walking around distributing tracts, protesting against the heathenism of the natives as he saw the religion he couldn’t comprehend (living in Krishnapur, as he said to himself, named after a heathen god himself), spouting theology viciously at the Collector as he tried to grapple with more earthly issues in the offal-strewn lawns of the Residency. He dug graves for the dead before they began to be dumped into a well, and grudgingly granted Father O’Hara a plot for his Catholic dead; spectre-like, he walked around in the early hours of dawn, praying for deliverance and marvelling at the magnitude of the sin around himself.

Honest, earthy and moving in its depiction of human nature, The Siege of Krishnapur definitely ranks among the best books I’ve ever read.

‘Mrs. Dalloway’ – A Review

When I first read Virginia Woolf, I wasn’t perhaps in the right frame of mind for it; I let frivolity and impatience cloud my first-ever reading of a stream-of-consciousness work in To The Lighthouse, and didn’t treat it with the respect it deserved.

Now, having read Mrs. Dalloway, I am in awe of Virginia Woolf. The clarity with which she puts forth the convoluted workings of the human mind are astounding- the various characters who weave themselves in and out of one another’s lives as Clarissa Dalloway prepares for her party come together in an intricate tapestry, and how real it seems!

Clarissa Dalloway, recovering from an illness, goes about preparing for a party, reminiscing as she does so over the circumstances that led her to marry Richard Dalloway instead of Peter Walsh, the man with whom she walked the woods and had innumerable arguments. She dwells over her love for brash Sally Seton and ruminates on the kiss they once shared. As she sits mending her torn dress for the party, she is visited by Walsh- now back from his long stay in India, unhappily married, and now in love with a married mother of two. She invites him to her party; he is not sure he should attend. Her husband brings her flowers as he returns from lunch at Lady Bruton’s; smarting at not being invited, she asks if she was inquired after. She stands uneasily with Miss Kilman, her daughter’s German-born teacher who detests parties and finds solace in religion and food.

Woolf picks people off the streets of London and examines their lives. Fresh from the First World War, people are still putting their lives back together; Septimus Warren Smith, sitting on a park bench with his Italian wife, is pondering over his crimes. He will not get a patient hearing, however, because the two doctors who examine him have diametrically opposing views, and what he does with himself in the course of the day carries its own reverberations to Clarissa’s party. She is angered that the misfortunes of a man she doesn’t know should inflict themselves on her party in the shape of the doctor and his wife who arrive late, bearing those sad tidings- but she is convinced that the party is a success. Peter Walsh is there, as are Sally Seton and her elderly aunt. Why, the Prime Minister is also present, being talked of with a sort of awe in hushed tones.

The minute examination to which Woolf subjects her characters is admirable. Splitting the day amongst the people who populate Clarissa’s life directly or indirectly, she drifts in and out of their heads, tackling the themes of suicidal depression and homosexuality, and life in general. Slights, disappointments, jealousy, inexpressible happiness- the vagaries of life and human reaction to them are duly dealt with. Can’t you just see yourself there, in transports of bliss one moment, grappling with trivialies the next? The past presses upon us even as we make our way into the future, the present manufacturing memories that combine and occupy their niches in the subconscious, dormant until roused to sudden activity by the smallest stimulus.

Mrs. Dalloway is a book to be absorbed and dwelt upon- and re-read.

Living Off Your Imagination

Roddy Doyle thought thus about receiving books as presents when he was ten: “Books weren’t presents. I loved books, but they were a bit like food. I loved chicken, but a leg in wrapping paper would have been a huge disappointment.” (Look here for the full article.)

I have always loved receiving books as presents. The first time I ever received any was at the end of Class 1, when we were moving away from Bhilai, my class teacher gave me two books; one a children’s dictionary and the other a book of short stories.

I have no idea why she chose to give me books instead of a game or a doll as other people were wont to, but I think she was a very wise woman. On a long day alone at home (and newly unemployed, I’m going to have several), there is nothing that keeps you company like a book and your imagination. The book of short stories carried the tale of a princess who loved good things to eat and was thrilled by Turkish Delight, and for some reason I interpreted it as a whole recipe. I was determined to make it at home- I had decided it was something akin to pink-coloured, rose-flavoured ice candy- and I got as far as making ice cubes. I had not the vaguest notion of how to proceed from there, and whiled away the rest of the afternoon sucking at the ice cubes and hoping they’d somehow turn pink and rose-flavoured.

I could have been excused at that age for such ill-informed ideas; but what got into me during one summer vacation when I was fourteen or fifteen, I’ll never know. I had grand plans to make reasonable inroads into my father’s vast library; I ended up reading only two books in those two months. One was Larry Collins/Dominique Lapierre’s O’Jerusalem– I read it very eagerly, appalled and enthralled by turns at the courage of the people fighting for what they believed in, and the means to which they were prepared to resort. I finished it pretty quickly and began Frederick Marryat’s The Children of the New Forest, and I still blush to think I took so long to finish it. Part of the blame I can conveniently lay on my imagination- in the dim, curtained room, door closed and AC turned on, it was very easy to believe you were in the depths of a thick forest, the light barely let in by heavy foliage, fighting Roundheads with simple handmade weapons and weeding small plots of land. I stopped short at imagining I was having wild boar for dinner, because my vegetarian sensibilities rule over the romantic.

It isn’t always easy to adapt a book on film, and several movies manage to warp the very idea of the book and create cardboard characters who seem the very antithesis of their originals in the book. Watching a movie made out of a book can be a very traumatic experience particularly if you live and swear by the book. Looking up adaptations of Little Women this morning, I stumbled upon a 1978 version, where the actress playing twelve-year-old Amy looked older and wiser than I do at this ripe old age of mine. An adaptation of Anne of Green Gables featured a pedestrian-looking Anne Shirley, without the spark of the eyes or the vim of speech that makes the legendary redhead the heroine that she is. An insult to the writer’s imagination is what I call these shoddy adaptations.

Skipping lunch and writing this makes me feel a bit like Jo March, but I don’t have a garret, apples, or a wonderful idea for a story, so I’ll just rise now and betake myself to my simple lunch of cold rice, curd and potato chips.

Of Grudges and Discoveries- And Grudges

One of the few pleasures of work is a browse at the bookstore in office. Push open the door to this other world, inhale deeply, and you immediately shut out the noise of the clanking glasses at the juice kiosk and the relentless chatter of the crowds thronging the supermarket. Lunch, however, isn’t always the ideal time to go in if you fancy being alone with the books, for there will always be those idiots- yes, I said it- asking at the counter for Chetan Bhagat, when their uninviting spines are already staring them down in the face from the shelves in the Indian authors’ section, ranged alongside the more smug types like Shashi Tharoor and Arundhati Roy.

It takes all kinds to make the world, though, and none of us is above the occasional leave-your-brains-behind easy read, so I’ll move on to my next, more reasonable grudge- people who talk loudly on their cell phones in the otherwise quiet confines of the bookshop, or worse still, let them ring loudly on. Why anybody should be interested in their ring tones I really don’t know. A bookshop should be as sacred as a library when it comes to peace and quiet, but the fact obviously sails smoothly over some people’s heads, so they’ll laugh and giggle and organise games of tug-of-war in the aisles when you’re trying to find a quiet corner where you can forget your latest confrontation with your team lead.

Despite these aberrations, though, the bookshop is still a happy place, thanks to the discoveries you can make. You must know the joy of having coveted a book very, very long and suddenly realising that it is no longer as expensive as it once was- and then you’re prepared to worship the hordes of people who’ve conveniently ignored Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene in favour of Stephenie Meyer. I stumbled upon hardcover editions of The Heart of the Matter, Brighton Rock and Vile Bodies in this fashion. (Only Decline and Fall remains unbought, and I’m going to get a copy very soon.) They were sold at throwaway prices for hardcover books, the original price being a prohibitive GBP 5.99. Only Christopher Columbus could have been slightly more ecstatic when he “discovered” America, but on that particular day, you could easily have spotted the happiest person in the world.

However, I did make another discovery today which was by no means as heartening. A sudden impulse to revisit Heidi made me look up the Wikipedia page, and I discovered that its English translator, Charles Tritten, had taken it into his head to write sequels about Heidi’s life as an adult, and about her children as well. I read an abridged version of Heidi when I was around seven, and Heidi has more or less stayed the same age to me. I definitely do not want to think of her as an adult with a family of her own.

One of the charms of the books we read as children lies in the eternal youth of their characters. I have never enjoyed the sequels to What Katy Did or Anne of Green Gables as much as I enjoyed these wonderful celebrations of the captivating innocence of childhood. It’s bad enough for me to have to grow into an adult- so why on earth would I want to be bothered with Anne’s fretting over her children’s attacks of whooping cough? Childhood is about abandon and having somebody else worry for you, trusting and liking everyone you know, throwing tantrums and being ingratiated. Watching young boys and girls grow into adults in books is a premonition of the future, of the distant days best avoided as long as possible (which, with the endearing ineptitude of childhood, you don’t really realise till you’re a full-fledged grown-up). These chronicles of adulthood should be saved for their readers’ own adulthood, when people begin asking why on earth they would want to read juvenile fiction- oh the travails of life!

Only JM Barrie really understood this, and if I knew where Neverland was, I’d be getting on a plane this very moment.

Shelves

I have memories of a sunshiny, airy house in Hyderabad, whose walls were kissed by the swaying branches of trees on soft summer afternoons. This house was populated by kindly spirits and filled with a quiet salubrious energy. I particularly remember a room lined with large bookcases- they might have appeared mammoth and daunting to a seven- or eight-year-old who was just learning to enjoy abridged illustrated classics, these bunches of different spines- but I also found it very welcoming and awe-inspiring.

More than fifteen years have gone by and much has changed. Two of the people whose kindness I remember from when I was a young girl have passed on. Aunty’s shrikhand has sadly disappeared from memory. Uncle has left behind something more enduring- plenty of stories. I was enthralled when I came to know that this Uncle I knew was a celebrity in his own way; his stories won competitions for adults in Tinkle and were published in CBT books (an important part of my childhood reading), and how delighted I would be to see them in print! I stopped buying Tinkle a few years ago, but when I bought a copy on a whim, I’d be doubly thrilled to see one of Uncle’s stories in it. And I came to know yesterday that there wouldn’t be any more of them. I see a blank spot on the shelf.

******

His daughter is trimming her collection of books. I ask her how she can summon up enough strength to sell away well-loved books. She tells me with a laugh that she has reconciled herself to it; these are books that she has read twice or thrice every year, over many years. She is circulating the list of books she is giving away among a close circle of friends, people who she knows will care for them as she has. I’ve asked for some of them- Ishiguro, Dick Francis, JRR Tolkien, Sheridan Le Fanu. I don’t know if I’ll ever have enough courage to give up my own books. I gave away a copy of Kafka on the Shore a couple of months ago, and I still regret it at times, even though I know the recipient well and am sure that he will look after it properly.

Sometimes, though, keeping your bookshelves stocked isn’t the most important thing in life.

Patrick French on ‘India: A Portrait’

Author Patrick French was in Bangalore this evening, promoting his new book, ‘India: A Portrait’. Not having heard of either the book or the author earlier, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to attend the session, until, through sheer coincidence, I stumbled upon this review on the Guardian website. Aravind Adiga hasn’t been too kind to the book- while praising the author’s style and in-depth research, he has denounced the large number of loose ends he claims to have discovered.

It will be unfair of me to take sides with either French or Adiga in this debate, considering I haven’t read the book. The Englishman came across as a keen, intelligent person in the hour-long session. Beginning with Ladakh, he talked of his journeys down south and among the Khasi tribes. He read out excerpts from his book and described the amount of research that went into it. A great deal of statistics was evidently involved, and French gave examples in the form of an analysis of the dynastic politics rampant in India. He was appreciative of the UID scheme and marvelled at the diversity of the country, and its acceptance without question, unlike in many other parts of the world where people were just learning to come to terms with it. He spoke of how science and religion weren’t treated as separate entities but coexisted in India, unlike in Europe a few centuries ago.

At the end of his reading, French fielded questions from the audience. When asked what differences he saw between India and China, having written about both, he spoke of the difference between India’s democracy and China’s single-party system where public opinion couldn’t be voiced as openly, and about the latter‘s single-child policy which was resulting in an aging population. He explained how a factor in the lack of young politicians in India was the number of career options available to the youth. On being asked what other facets he would have liked to cover, he mentioned that he wanted to write more about the North-East. He explained that he hadn’t written about farmer suicides and some other issues because they didn’t fit in with the tone of this book.

French steered clear of the more controversial excerpts that Adiga has discussed in his review. Perhaps, having published the controversial Liberty or Death – India’s Journey to Independence and Division earlier, French has decided to play it safe this time. It was disappointing though, for in bringing out some of the more colourful parts of the book, French might have excited greater enthusiasm for and interest in his work.

Adiga, in his review, has said that most books on India tend to be either literary or journalistic. Considering French writes with style while also laying emphasis on facts and figures, this book seems to be treading the middle line. I must admit that I didn’t think there was anything new explored in the book. In talking about the dabbawallahs and the small-scale entrepreneurs, French is only charting familiar territory, discussing subjects that we’ve seen Suketu Mehta and Mark Tully do earlier. If, instead, French had gone ahead to open up the North-East to the rest of the world and focused on things often ignored in favour of the exciting story of India’s growth coupled with the inevitable comparisons with China, this book would have been something to talk about. As of now, though, it just seems like yet another book on India from a foreigner’s perspective. Not a travelogue, not a book of dry figures, but something in between.

The Slap, or An Exercise in Futility

Please tell me that Christos Tsiolkas isn’t writing ‘The Sequel to The Slap, The Reverberations of an Uncalled-for Act in Civilised Society’. Put my fears of column inches and breath going waste over a clunky, plotless, ineffectual mass of drivel to rest. I wouldn’t want to see trees destroyed and the earth endangered to put into circulation so much inanity, re-creating caricatures that already scream at you from your television screams in sexed-up soap operas. If The Slap has a point, it’s invisible to the naked eye.

With shallow characters proudly boasting weaknesses which Zeus and His entire Pantheon would quail at themselves, and writing that sounds like it has been ripped off an uninterested Class Seven student’s English homework, The Slap is easily the most irritating book I’ve ever read. It beats England, England hands down and makes you wonder at the intelligence (or lack of it) of befeathered panels of judges who propose and extol the clumsiest pieces of writing as introspective studies into societal patterns- I seriously doubt even Tsiolkas ever thought his episodic mishmash of characters would ever be construed seriously. Well done, then, Christos, because you’ve managed to pull the wool over the eyes of quite a few people, and I hate myself for having fallen prey to the frenzy and the hype. I confess to my crime- I read two-thirds of the book. Persecute me in any Court of Law if you will, but please don’t write a sequel. If you don’t have any such ideas, I hope I’m not giving you some.

And to think this embarrassment of a book won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, something that was once sensibly awarded to the sublimely beautiful Lloyd Jones novel Mister Pip, shakes my faith in humanity and gravity and everything we’re taught to believe in. The characters are extremely weak and you never have a chance to get into their skin and feel things the way they do. The attempt at threading together multicultural influences in Australian society isn’t remarkable in any way, and the idea I take away from the book is that all immigrants stick together and seek flings with other immigrants when bored of their own lives (which is almost all the time). No one is happy, and life is one big frown between scrunched-up eyebrows. The only positive thing is that the book arouses your curiosity in a way- you keep reading, hoping you’ll stumble upon some kind of plot. Right now, though, I think life is too short, and maybe even gloomy (I learn from my reading experiences) to keep plodding through the rest of the ‘story’.

The blurb on the cover says the book is about how the lives of a group of middle-class people are affected after they become unwilling victims/witnesses of an ugly incident at a barbecue, where a man slaps a three-year-old child. (If, in the course of reading the book, which I sincerely wouldn’t wish upon you, you are inclined to side with the ‘wicked man’, don’t worry- Hugo is the most irritating child in the history of literature. Blame it on the parents- the most annoying ever, in their own right, so there you have it, a family of excellence.) Relationships suffer, affairs are ended or embarked upon, and whether or not they’re all because of The Slap (my roommate likened it to the title of a cheap movie, and I wouldn’t disagree, because this is a literary equivalent) I haven’t been able to, or bothered to, figure out. Tsiolkas has an OCD-like fixation with carnal pleasures and four-letter expletives, and you can’t go past two pages at a time without being treated to voyeuristic images and sounds of moaning and sighing. Christos, my man, too much of anything isn’t good. Anything. That isn’t half the problem, though, because you cannot write. Period. You’ve had your fifteen minutes of fame, so get yourself a beer and retire to the pleasures of the desert and the ocean, drive from Perth to Melbourne and back, play rugby if you will, but don’t let us hear of you publishing a book ever again. Unless, of course, it’s a manual of some sort.

PS: Those who know me will understand that I must have detested this book to spew so much venom against a poor individual. I might think differently tomorrow, but I don’t want generosity to efface the truth.

Irish-born writer Emma Donoghue’s novel, Room, was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. It didn’t win, and like any novel propelled into publicity thanks to its appearance as a contender on major prize lists, had its fair share of fans and disparagers. Despite all the hype surrounding it, though, Room does come out as an honest novel, deceptively simple, but in fact possessing a depth that reminds you of life as it used to be, before you stopped letting the wool be pulled over your eyes and decided to open up to reality.

If you’ve forgotten the first time you visited the beach and the various sensations the pricking of the sand underfoot and the tang of the salt-air evoked, then Room will remind you of them. Swinging in the park, making real friends out of cartoon characters on television and forming an instant camaraderie with total strangers will no longer seem like childish pursuits to be looked down upon the length of adult ego-sized noses.

Having lived for five long years in one eleven-by-eleven cork-lined room, Jack is unaware of the world outside. Everything on television is just fantasy, his long-suffering mother tells him, to snuff out any craving he might have for an impossible whiff of fresh air or a romp in the streets. Their captor, whom they call Old Nick, visits them almost every night, bringing them supplies, taking the trash out, and then ‘making the bed creak’ while Jack stays closed up in the wardrobe until it is safe enough for him to scramble into bed beside his mother. Life goes on thus, until one day, Jack’s little, room-sized world is shattered by the revelation that there is an ‘Outside’, that television isn’t all fantasy- Dora the Explorer is, but not the men and women and children, the aeroplanes and the birds. What Jack and his mother see through the skylight actually exists, the objects whose names Ma keeps forgetting are real, and she has a name- two names, in fact- for the rest of the world to call her. For a child born into captivity, fathoming that the various planets on television are in fact all pieces of one large reality isn’t easy.

When Ma finally reaches breaking point and makes a daring plan that she and Jack call their ‘Great Escape’, he is extremely nervous. He has to be ‘scave’- brave though he is scared- and rescue his mother from the clutches of their captor. But things don’t just end there, because that’ll mean opening the door to reality, to a world that Jack is unsure of entering. And while Jack runs in pursuit of liberty, you find yourself egging him on, hoping and praying hard that he’ll make it safely into the arms of a trustworthy adult.

In Room, Donoghue makes you see the world in a way that you used to, through a pair of forgotten lenses buried deep inside but fished out with urgency as you realise that there is much that should be valued but is taken for granted. You warm to Jack instantly as he describes his life alternating amid Wardrobe and Bed and Skylight, his personification of all the objects around him, even as the existence of real people outside seems like a mystery. Inspired by the horrific Josef Fritzl case, Room portrays brilliantly the horrors of a life that most of us would struggle to imagine. Told entirely in Jack’s voice, it is innocent and devoid of any frills or sensationalism.

There are instances towards the end of the book where it seems to lose a little steam and the tautness of the narrative seems to slack away a bit- however, as you read about Jack and his mother coming to terms with change and absorbing the ways of life around them, little by little, you cannot help but put yourself in their shoes. You do wonder at the tremendous intelligence of a boy who has lived a confined life for five years, exposed to the world outside only through an hour of television everyday and the five picture books he has obtained for ‘Sundaytreat’. While most of it seems to draw from real-life incidents across the world- and they are shockingly many in number- the powerful imagery Donoghue evokes brings credibility to the story.

Touching without being unnecessarily dramatic, Room is a strong recommendation if you’re looking to fall in love with writing all over again.

Of Men, Women and Disgrace

I don’t know if there is such a thing as the perfect time of day to finish a book; but as I read the last words of Disgrace, the sun dipping into oblivion beyond the block of flats to the west, I felt the deep satisfaction that comes from having just finished a good book. If it weren’t ironic in this context, I might almost have said “enriched”.

J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 Booker Prize-winning novel is vividly beautiful; without trying to stir up a sensation, it weaves in moral dilemmas and acts of revenge. One act of oppression cannot be avenged by another — this truth, obviously, doesn’t come home to us in such simple terms — but when Coetzee addresses it in this masterful piece of work, it is difficult not to try and make sense of it.

David Lurie, a white professor in Cape Town, succumbs to the demands of the flesh and indulges in an affair with one of his students, Melanie Isaacs. Things go downhill thereafter as he is forced to resign from his post at the University, and he seeks refuge with his daughter, Lucy, who lives on a farm, trying to adapt to a lifestyle he hasn’t quite been able to understand.

An unfortunate event follows, leading him to turn protector instead of finding the peace and care he had hoped for, and Lucy’s actions in the aftermath lead him to question if they are her own way of trying to teach him a lesson, to make him understand what his impulsive acts of lust might have meant to the young woman whose life he must have changed forever.

There isn’t much room for contrition or apology. While Lurie does visit Melanie’s parents to explain his side of the story and apologise for the trouble he might have caused them, he isn’t quite prepared to consider that he might be in the wrong. He pins the reason of his acts down to desire — as much a part of human nature as that of animals. However, he is forced to question his beliefs off and on with the events shaping Lucy’s life.

He finds solace in his work with the local animal shelter, helping out with the injured animals and ensuring that the corpses of the ones put down are treated with respect, taking them down to be incinerated himself. He mulls over his future, having lost his job (which he didn’t particularly enjoy) and the respect of his friends. People who once knew him hesitantly acknowledge his presence or turn away altogether; Lucy’s resolve to stay on the farm all by herself despite the dangers and her baffling decisions confuse him. He wants to protect her despite her resistance.

He tries to work on an opera, taking inspiration from Byron’s mistress, Teresa, envisaging her life in middle age, her craving for the love that had cruelly slipped away from her. A cloud of danger lurks in the distance, of course, but it is something he and Lucy will have to learn to live with.

Disgrace, without overt political references, skillfully melds individual lives with the larger problems dogging South Africa. Coetzee’s writing is graceful and effortless, the portrayal of characters honest without being sentimental. If some of the other Booker winners might have disappointed, Disgrace can atone for their collective failure in good measure.

“Never Judge A Book By Its Movie”

So said JW Eagan- the quote was on one of my bookmarks from Crossword- and I agree wholeheartedly with it. A stack of DVDs isn’t on my “three things you’d take with you to a deserted island” list- I like cinema only in moderation, because it somehow seems to drain my reserves of patience (and I take the blame). But there is hardly anything as off-putting as a horrendous movie made out of a perfectly good book.

It is almost criminal to watch the movie adaptation of a book before having read the book itself. Reading is an impetus to the imagination, and it is the prose that is supposed to create the first impressions in your head-this is also the measure of how successful an author has been in impacting your thoughts. Succumb to all the hype of a movie before you’ve read the book it has been adapted from, you’ve almost surely lost the excitement of the richness of language and characterisation which drew such overwhelming images in a person’s mind that, incapable of suppression and containment, they spilled onto the screen. I floundered through the movie adaptations of Wuthering Heights, Mansfield Park and Rob Roy– finishing none of them- but ravenously devoured the books.

That said, there have been a few adaptations that have made a successful transition to the screen from paper. The eternal tearjerker Little Women was almost- certainly not entirely- loyal to Louisa May Alcott’s novel, but I’m thankful I read the book first; I wouldn’t have wanted Winona Ryder’s (then) rosy face interfering with my own picture of Jo March. Into The Wild was just as good in its sincerity, but I’m glad the first images of the forests, the wildernesses and the people Chris McCandless met were in my head- even though it was a real-life story. Middle Earth wouldn’t have been as mysterious and darkly beautiful if I’d seen the Lord of the Rings movies shot in the more homely (yes, I said it) locales of New Zealand first. Hobbits were JRR Tolkien’s own creation, not heavily made-up human beings.

The movies the actors choose to do later, and their real-life adventures splashed across newspapers also ruin it for me. I really don’t like to believe that the protagonist in the Twilight series (need I explain further?) was the thoughtful young woman who McCandless almost fell in love with. Ryder, troubled and accused of shoplifting, couldn’t have been the merry, still-tomboyish Mrs. Bhaer, could she?

Then there is the publicity. I would have enjoyed Ice Candy Man more if Deepa Mehta’s characters- omnipresent on television when 1947 Earth was released, thanks to relentless promotion- hadn’t superimposed themselves on the faces I was gradually painting in my head. My copy of Vanity Fair has a photograph of Reese Witherspoon and her corseted cleavage on it. Is she to form my idea of a character as vivacious and interesting as Becky? I think not, for I certainly trust Mr. Thackeray‘s capabilities better- I’ve covered the book in paper and shut out the names of the cast, the director and the costume designer. If the wise mothers and chaperones talk of sprigged muslin, I’ll figure out for myself what it is, thank you very much.

The day I decide to turn the awe-inspiring Mexican story The Power and The Glory into a movie, I’ll let you know. But you’ll be allowed to watch it only if you’ve already done Graham Greene the courtesy of reading the book. For in this case, it is extremely evident which one came first.

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