4 books in a week: Mini Book Reviews

Mini Book Reviews For Fiction Nerds
Books i read-June
 
Stayed away from screens/social media for a week and managed to catch up on my reading of printed books of fiction that I own/have borrowed. I read four books and highly recommend them. These aren’t new books and you might have already them but I thought of sharing my thoughts anyway and hopefully I’ll get to hear your views on the books/writers too.
 
1- Slam by Nick Hornby
2- My Father’s Garden by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
3- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
4- Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
 
Apart from Roy, I’ve read two books by each of the authors mentioned above. I randomly picked these books to read. I also have a habit of not reading about the book or film before I read/watch because I enjoy discovering it by myself and I’m glad I knew nothing about the plot of these books beforehand. It made the reading experience all the more pleasurable. I used my highlighter(in the photo) to highlight lines that I’d like to revisit and relish.
 
1-Slam by Nick Hornby
 
I found this book at a Booksbyweight sale in Churchgate, Mumbai. I had vaguely heard of Nick Hornby and thought of checking out his work. After scanning the huge fiction collection on display, I noticed two books by Nick Hornby. ‘Slam’ and ‘High Fidelity’. I bought both.
 
After reading both of his books, I’ve noticed a common thread Hornby likes to explore through his fiction. A male narrator (unreliable and neurotic at times) who is flawed and relatable. He struggles to understand females and tries to understand himself through female protagonists. Through a colloquial first person narration, the reader is immediately befriended by the narrator(sort of like Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye) and before you know it, you’re hooked. But what attracts the reader might soon be a turn off. Some readers might find the voice bordering on misogynistic (I got those vibes too) but if you stick with the book till the end, you’ll discover that Hornby gives space to his female characters, you hear their voice, the male narrator ‘learns’ from them and grows.
 
Hornby picks a passion for his male narrators, In ‘High Fidelity’ it was music and in ‘Slam’ it is ‘skating’. While in the former, there were some references to songs which I didn’t get, it wasn’t the case at all in ‘Slam’. Infact in ‘Slam’ it is reading. The narrator has read the autobiography of his skating idol and uses it to cope with everything in his life. Hornby uses these passions as crutches for his male narrators, their coping mechanism to deal with life, with heartbreaks and it works well in both the books. What’s also palpable in both the books is the male protagonist’s anxiety to meet the expectations of loved ones, seeking their validation etc. Another common thread is the reference to how we may get heavily influenced by what we consume (read/watch/listen).
 
I also enjoy the narrators’ humour. Hornby’s humour timing is great, it lightens the mood at just the right places.
 
Example from ‘Slam’-
 
‘Why don’t you go home, Rabbit?
 
‘You don’t have to be like that. I know when I’m not wanted.’
 
If Rabbit knew when he wasn’t wanted, he’d be living in Australia by now.’
 
Loved the closing line of the book- ‘I think that’s what Tony Hawk was trying to tell me all along.
 
(Friends, If you have read other of his books. Let me know if they are similar. And please let me know of other authors who write in the same vein- first person narration-male characters)
 
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2-My Father’s Garden by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
 
I received this book from writer Deepanjana Pal (Her book giveaway). Thanks Tara for sending her newsletter to me. I’ve read Shekhar’s work before. I absolutely loved ‘The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey’. It seems like there is no moment in his characters’ lives that the reader is not made privy too. We see everything like a camera would. Even their most vulnerable and intimate moments and here lies his strength as a writer. He uses this to his advantage in this book and the book begins with such an intimate scene.
 
It’s quite a small book and the font size is pretty large which made it easier on the eyes. The book is divided into three sections. Lover. Friend. Father.
 
It is narrated in first person. While the first section focuses on the narrator’s private life, the second section focuses on issues that don’t concern him directly as if he’s almost guilty for being narcisstic in the first section.
 
The narrator in this book is memorable for the way he navigates life through the male characters in his life. Be it a lover, friend or family member. He tries to make a difference in his own way but he finds himself tied up to these connections with men. It makes the reader think about the people we choose to be with and people we are related to by blood and how that contributes a lot to our self-image. I enjoyed the way Shekhar portrays power dynamics in relationships and also the way the male characters in the narrator’s life are engaged in politics in the way he cannot.
 
The closing line of the book is one of the saddest of all. It’s a sad story, there is no respite offered to the reader because the unnamed narrator gets none.
 
I also like how Shekhar shows the influence of culture on his protagonists. The consumption of cinema for example, one of his characters is obsessed with Salman Khan (almost like Hornby’s portrayal of our influence by culture, society etc.)
 
(Friends, Do you enjoy his short stories or his novels?)
 
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3- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
 
I might the only one who has read this book in 2020. I had tried reading this when I was in school but it seemed complicated to me then so I pushed it for later. And then the hype around it made me procrastinate further. I’m so glad I finally read it. I loved the omniscient narration. It was mesmerizing. Roy makes everything come alive through her prose. Her characters are unforgettable. Her portrayal of characters from Kerala, Malayalam dialogues and the place as a character made me nostalgic of the Gulf and being surrounded by Mallus.
 
The way Roy handles politics in the book reminded me of Meena Kandasamy’s work. Another brilliant writer. Roy has brilliantly used humour to lighten the heavy text (You know it’s going to get heavy because of the clever foreshadowing). Roy’s humour stems from being extremely observant, she finds humour in the way people talk, behave etc. And the reader makes it a point to be more observant or atleast make notes of people’s quirks and eccentrities.
 
Example- Comrade Pillai’s arms were crossed over his chest, and he clasped his own armpits possessively, as though someone had asked to borrow them and he had just refused.
 
Roy is a poet. (‘When I Hit You’ by Meena Kandasamy is also poetic.)
 
Example- Only the vines kept growing, like toe-nails on a corpse.
 
It is a heartbreaking tale, with scenes that have the ability to creep up on you in your nightmares but that’s only because Roy has made the reader so attached to the characters that you want the best for them. After reading this book, I almost didn’t want to tell anyone about it, like a secret only meant for me but I’m sure many of you have already read this and re-read it too. If you haven’t, please do, it’s a masterpiece.
 
(Another female writer I really admire for the way she handles politics in her plots is Chimamanda Adichie-Half of a Yellow Sun.)
 
(Friends, Did you like ‘Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ more?)
 
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4- Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
 
I’m sure almost everyone has heard of his masterpiece ‘Catcher in the Rye’. I didn’t even know about his other work. I might have read it on Wikipedia but it slipped my mind. I’m so glad I borrowed this slim book from Jayna. Thank you for letting me borrow this gem.
 
I could completely relate to ‘Franny’. Franny is a short story that appeared in The New Yorker. Salinger is brilliant at dialogue. Franny is one of the best short stories I’ve read and I’m sure I’ll revisit it now and then. Franny is going through an existential crisis. She is looking for spiritual enlightenment. She is dating Lane who doesn’t quite fathom what she’s going through. (Reminded me of the film ‘I-Origins’ in which a female character believes in spirituality as opposed to the male character’s rational beliefs.) She is feeling ill…
 
The best line in the story, Franny’s line- ‘I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.’
 
‘Zooey’ is Franny’s brother and he comes to her rescue in the novella. Franny is a standalone story and ‘Zooey’ is a novella. We get introduced to the ‘Glass family’. Here, some readers might find the narration of the story to be pretentious and it is quite obvious that Salinger wanted to stand out through his craft. But he doesn’t complicate things for the sake of it, he ties it well with the plot of the story. Nothing is done at the cost of the story. Those who enjoy such nuances of style and the craft will love his work. Others might need a more patient reading and re-reading to get a hang of it initially but if one keeps reading, the story is so intriguing and brings out the characters in such an interesting way that one is left with a warm feeling. You feel privileged to be a part of the Glass family, if only temporarily.
 
This book by JD Salinger is quite a thought provoking tale (makes you think of nature vs nurture, God etc.) that might also answer your questions on ‘spirituality’ and appreciate the good in everything and everyone around you.
 
(Friends, Did you prefer Catcher in the Rye?)
 
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