2.5/5

Anti Climax

This is my review of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. I listened to the audiobook version of this, because technology. And also because it was read by the author.

This book is, first and foremost, about sex (or the lack thereof). If this makes you uncomfortable, then this probably isn’t the book for you. It’s not graphic, but, well, sex is the overall theme. The title of this review is a poorly attempt at a pun. I’m a fan of McEwan’s because Atonement is a beautiful book that also made a beautiful movie.

It’s 1962, and the story is set in England. Edward and Florence are a young couple on their honeymoon on Chesil Beach. There’s a flashback about their respective upbringings. Not unexpectedly, they are both from very different backgrounds but are very much in love. But when it comes to consummating their marriage, Florence is hesitant, almost repulsed. It’s implied that sexual repression was common back then, and that she may have been abused as a child. Edward is impatient and humiliated by her rejection. Their encounter ends, uh, unsuccessfully.

In the heat of the moment, they decide to annul their marriage. The book then summarizes the rest of their lives, from Edward’s point of view. They are both very successful in their respective careers, and start their own families. A sixty year old Edward realizes that by not fighting for their love, and by being impatient with Florence, he made one of the most important decisions in his life.

This was a slow paced and uneventful novel. There’s good character development, but I was not rooting for them to stay together- maybe just not invested in their story. This book probably has some nostalgia value for people who grew up in the place and time described. In that respect, it’s an interesting social study of how society shapes your perception of sex (which is, of course, a fundamental instinct for humans)

Despite the disappointment (ha-ha) of On Chesil Beach, I’ll still be hunting down McEwan’s other work. 2.5/5, do not read unless you are bored.

 

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Hey look, this sci-fi book passes the Bechdel test

This is my review of The Year of the Flood, the second book in the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood.

A decade (and a half, maybe) ago, an aunt of mine read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It was the peak of the Harry Potter craze, and people were speculating wildly about the next book- whichever number it was- and queuing up outside bookstores at 6 a.m. to grab their copies. My aunt wanted to know what made this series like catnip for teenagers. Her verdict: It was overly detailed, and filled with Chekhov’s guns, thus providing endless fodder for analysis. The magic was also made less ‘ridiculous’ and, well, fantastic, because there were prosaic details too. For every mention of a Goblin-run bank, there was also a reasonable- sounding currency conversion.

I liked Oryx and Crake for basically the same reasons. It was science fiction with a human touch, a supervillain origin story with high school nerds- the combination was promising. Yes, there were genetically modified animals running around, but some of them were failed beta tests. I had to get more of this universe!

Similar to O&C, The Year of the Flood is also written from two points of view. This time, the protagonists are two women, Toby and Ren. They are both former members of a religious cult called God’s Gardeners, and by pure luck have survived the deadly epidemic that Crake unleashed. The book reveals their backstories, and what life is like for ordinary citizens amidst all the bioterrorism.

The most enjoyable parts of the book were the scenes in God’s Gardeners, a group that preaches vegetarianism and the need to stop harming God’s creatures. It was interesting to me how very reasonable the cult was- there was no brainwashing, and they provided security to non-believers, as long as they were productive and cooperative. Sometimes, support systems can be born from a shared questionable belief; too often, it’s the other way round.

The parts I liked the least were basically everything else; the story is tangential to the main plot of O&C, and barely reveals any new details. Ren dated Jimmy briefly whilst at college. She still carries a torch for him, but this has no bearing on any events. Essentially, this is like the Director’s Cut of the original plot- interesting scenes, but just for the true enthusiasts.

Margaret Atwood also wrote the modern classic The Handmaid’s Tale, about a modern Puritan society that strips women of fundamental rights. True to her role as a feminist icon, Atwood makes sure that Toby and Ren’s experiences are strongly coloured by their sexuality. They are motivated by love and wounded by gendered insults; many of their trials are related to sexual abuse. There is no overt feminism or man-bashing, something I was very glad of. These days, I find that political correctness is often brought to the attention of readers explicitly by self-satisfied authors (“Look look, this Sci-Fi book passes the Bechdel test!”)

I will definitely be reading Maddaddam (Book#3 in this trilogy), but perhaps with less enthusiasm. 2.5/5. Recommended only if you really enjoyed Oryx and Crake.

Caged

This is my review of Room by Emma Donoghue.

Saw this book on a Bestsellers of 2015 list, and was fascinated by the true crime premise. I lou psychological thrillers, and this seemed right up my alley.

Jack is a lively, precocious five year old. He lives with his mother, dislikes green beans and spends much of his time glued to the TV in his room. The normalcy ends there. Jack has never left his Room- to him it’s a proper noun- because his mother has been imprisoned there for seven years by a kidnapper. And he’s the product of repeated violent rape.

Disturbing, yes. Somehow this is offset by the casual, matter of fact narration. In Jack’s world, ‘screaming for help’ is a game to be played after lunch every day.

Not to worry, mother and son are rescued about halfway through the book. From there on out, the story is about Jack’s impressions of the outside world (talk about culture shock!). His mother spirals into a depression, and they’re both the target of some unpleasant paparazzi, but all this takes a back seat because to a five year old, pizza and toys are much more important.

This kind of terrible crime does occur today, and is undoubtedly terrifying for the victims. But in my opinion, telling the story from the point of view of a child distracted from the horror/emotional aspect of it, and didn’t have the saving grace of unique insight.

So despite the promising theme it wasn’t really what I expected. 2.5/5. I wouldn’t really recommend this book.

PS: This is *-ing awesome. Short story dispensers in public places. Beats staring at your phone to kill time.

Happy New Year!

Hello again! After reading American Psycho last month, I detox-ed my (very traumatized) head with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about a young second generation immigrant in Brooklyn, New York. It fit the bill perfectly- cheerful (for the most part), uplifting, inspiring- but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a preteen girl. Even then, I’d point you to Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl instead, for more hard hitting and realistic content. This gets a 2.5/5 from me.

Now that the trailer’s done, on to the review of the day/week/month!

The Gun Seller- Hugh Laurie

Some people read to improve their general knowledge, broaden their worldview, and become acquainted with world culture. I read for entertainment. That’s probably why I liked this book. It provides laughs without demanding much investment of time or intellectual effort. I would place it at a 7 on the laughter scale (with 10 being PG Wodehouse and 1, Khaled Hosseini).

This is a fast paced comedy/thriller book, set in the world of spies and industrial espionage. It starts off slowly, with more focus on witty puns and character development for the protagonist, before quickly diving into the twisty plot. It’s almost as if the author suddenly remembered that yes, stuff needs to happen here. To be honest, I lost track of the plot about three quarters of the way in (“So is she with the good guys or not?”). Luckily the conclusion considerately summarizes the story. Our hero defeats the baddies (terrorists/ gun runners/ drug smugglers, I’m not completely sure) and needless to say, he gets the girl in the end.

The spy theme is deliberately cliche, there are shootings and pretty girls in abundance, but it’s the brilliant humor that’ll keep you hooked. 3.5/5

If you liked this, you might like Plugged by Eoin Colfer (author of the extremely awesome Artemis Fowl series). It has a similar storyline- ex-military chap who finds himself investigating the murder of an acquaintance, all the while worrying about his premature balding.

PS: And yes, Hugh Laurie is the comedic genius behind A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Blackadder.