I review two short stories.
Natasha Gayari’s Chennai Summer for Out of Print
Anil Menon’s Love in An Age of Taxonomy for Kaani
Well…I picked this because I have heard a lot about Helen, the prodigy, she’s only 33 and already an author of 5 critically acclaimed books. I was so excited to read one of her books. The title ‘White is for witching’ intrigued me and I decided to begin with it. It caught me offguard. Her style is so different from what I’ve read till now [some parallels could be drawn to Carmen Maria Machado and Stephen King (The Shining) for the horror, Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the shore), Etgar Keret and Kuzhali Manickavel for the surrealism, Sharanya Manivannan for the mythology infused in prose, however, her style feels like something I haven’t read before].
It was abstract, haunting (the house is a character here, when I read the house’s pov, I actually looked up at my wall and imagined eyes opening and it made me shudder), disorienting, it shifts between povs. I learnt of somethings which I hadn’t previously heard of like The heralding pelican who symbolises Jesus for its sacrificing quality. Then the Psychomanteum mirror-gazing, and Pica- the eating disorder…Some bits from the book pop out as being good and keeps you hooked but just when you are beginning to get the hang of it or so you think, Helen drags you away and throws you into the big dark forbidden forest again to find your way, it is very annoying.
I wonder how Helen has the confidence to write so erratically. Maybe her first two books are similar in approach. I remember having heard a talk by Zadie Smith on debut authors who don’t trust the reader and give a lot of backstory and that reflects on the severe self-doubt writers have. Helen is the opposite, it seems like she doesn’t owe the reader anything. Half-way through the book, I realised my patience was wearing thin and it was highly likely that the book wouldn’t give me what I wanted from it even if I stuck around. This book isn’t for everyone.
October is birthday month and never have I had such an eventful month. I’m so happy to share that I have had three publications this month. Two poems and a story.
Fish eyes in The Bombay Literary Magazine
Ken in The Bangalore Review
You have a problem in Queen Mob’s Teahouse
P.S. Oct 21st is quite intimidating. Ursula LeGuin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Nobel…
I have been recently watching a lot of Booktube videos. One of my favourite Booktuber is Jen Campbell who is a writer herself. She is also a judge for the Forward Poetry Prize. She does amazing ‘Dissect a poem‘ videos which will help those who are learning to analyse poems. In one of her bookshelf tour video she mentioned the book ‘Notes on a scandal’ by Zoe Heller. The titled intrigued me. I didn’t read anything about the book before actually reading it as I usually prefer to discover the story directly from the book/film.
I began reading the book immediately and it kept me hooked because of the narrator’s voice. The narrator, Barbara, seemed wise, longing for true friendship and interesting in general. The story is more about the narrator’s life and her observations of the characters than just her version of the scandal to disprove all the media coverage. The reader is aware that she claims to be Sheba’s close friend hence, an unreliable narrator as her biases being a close friend will definitely reflect in the way she tells us the story, what details she chooses to reveal, conceal etc. but just how exactly unreliable was revealed to me only in the last line of the novel.
It gave me goosebumps and it dawned on me just how ‘unreliable’ she was and when I saw the film immediately after finishing the book it confirmed my doubts. She isn’t as sincere a friend as we might have thought she was, the whole film shows her as sinister, plotting, selfish and lonely to the point of being a sociopath. She is very possessive of Sheba, the new teacher who has an affair with the young boy Connolly. It makes one empathise with the narrator’s loneliness (her cat’s death, Bang’s rejection etc.) but also afraid of her motives.
The film is overt and portrays her as the antagonist from the start whereas the book is subtle. It’s her account and manages to convince us that the narrator is innocent, for most part of it, atleast. Reminded me of another unreliable narrator from Lolita. In this book the narrator Barbara distracts the reader by making us judge for ourselves whether Sheba is innocent or guilty thus removing the spotlight of judgment from herself, it’s cleverly done.
The narrator’s sister’s family is missing in the film. Sheba’s difficult daughter which added to Sheba’s problematic married life is downplayed in the film and other details differentiate the film from the book but both the book and the film tell the story in their own brilliant and breathtaking way.
Cate Blanchett is perfect for the dreamy character of Sheba and Judi Dench for the sinister narrator.
There are certain people in whom you can detect the seeds of madness—seeds that have remained dormant only because the people in question have lived relatively comfortable, middleclass lives. They function perfectly well in the world, but you can imagine, given a nasty parent, or a prolonged bout of unemployment, how their potential for craziness might have been realised—how their seeds might have sprouted little green shoots of weirdness, or even, with the right sort of antinurture, blossomed into full-blown lunacy. It occurred to me now, as I watched him sink down into his beanbag, that Brian Bangs was one of these people.
Why, I find myself silently asking my confiders, are you telling me? Of course, I know why, really. They tell me because they regard me as safe. Sheba, Bangs, all of them, they make their disclosures to me in the same spirit that they might tell a castrato or a priest—with a sense that I am so outside the loop, so remote from the doings of the great world, as to be defused of any possible threat. The number of secrets I receive is in inverse proportion to the number of secrets anyone expects me to have of my own. And this is the real source of my dismay. Being told secrets is not—never has been—a sign that I belong or that I matter. It is quite the opposite: confirmation of my irrelevance.
The book describes mother-daughter relations well. Especially the complex difficult ones. The narrator and her mother. Sheba and her mother. Sheba and her daughter Polly. The narrator tells Sheba that children add meaning to a woman’s life. Sheba denies this (she has her hands too full with Ben, her son, who has down syndrome and her difficult teen daughter Polly).
This exploration of mother-child relations reminded me of a film I recently saw called ‘The Joy Luck Club’ based on Amy Tan’s novel. It’s a must watch.
My poem ‘Ken’ appears in the latest issue of The Bangalore Review:
Day Dada walked out
without saying Yetan, which means
I’ll be back not I’m leaving. Day he left
without a sound or hint, Mama pulled me
close, unlike, when he was around.
I should’ve guessed then but Ken was on TV.
My biggest worry- How would I find Ken when
I looked nothing like Barbie? Mama switched off
the TV; Ken slipped away from the screen
when Barbie wasn’t looking.
Read the rest of the poem here
My latest poetry publication is ‘Fish Eyes’ in TBLM.
Mom and I talk in the kitchen only. I follow
her and say, in English, I miss the Arab
fisherman from Marina beach terribly.
The joy in your eyes when he caught a fish
every Saturday was special. She says
in Konkani. Dole pole. She points
Read the full poem here