The Stand- A review

Warning- I hated this book and will spoil it, if you’re a fan please don’t read this because it will only make you angry

In 1949 George R. Stewart wrote Earth Abides a pioneering work of science fiction that even today impresses with it’s rigor and curiosity. After a global pandemic wipes out a majority of the earth’s population, the remaining people band together but notice all too late that their grip on the world was never firm.

What makes the book an evergreen classic is Stewart’s exceptional attention to detail. Following what becomes a single tribe of white survivors, Stewart dons many hats. His keen eyes detail the slow decay of the great American cities without specialists to run them, he notices the flora and fauna rebound and the farm animals run wild. While our tribe gradually runs out of things they can scavenge they notice the cattle, livestock and dogs grow- generation after generation- to suit their new roles in the wild. While the third generation of children finally breaks away from the shadow of their grandparents’ memories they slowly begin to develop their own priorities of pastoralism and gathering while their parents struggle to inform them of a world that has passed. Dregs of the old world remain in what is shaping up to be a sort of priestly class. Across the mountains and on the plains other tribes, black and native rebuild in their own way. Slowly the tribes of men flourish, raiding the abandoned cities only for metals, and coins to turn into arrowheads.

The book closes on a man of science, a biologist, a teacher who slowly realises the profound capacity of the earth to change, the limitations of modernity and power. So great a novel written in a promising age for the USA, when they were on the cusp of empire. Admirable intelligence, restraint and vision colour the novels many subjects. Yet here I am pissed about “The Stand”. The Stand is King’s perhaps King’s worst work with his usual over indulgence, over production, excessive sentimentality strewn over a thousand pages too many.

King was always what political scientists may call a “shit lib”. Never has the man been able to consider society as something capable of producing it’s own villains. It’s fine when he’s writing about alien clowns or crazed dogs but woe befalls any reader caught in his web with a few characters too many. There’s a reason he hated Kubrick’s “The Shining”. In his boring book a psychic child has psychic powers while his dad is driven insane by a hotel. Kubric elevates this wasted premise encapsulating in the hotel the brutality of colonialism, the genocide of the Native American’s, the callous and negligent stewards of empire handing over responsibility to a violent man who hates his family. The hotel did not do anything to drive him crazy, he always belonged in it’s madness. It is an utterly boring movie but it has got substance.

What happens in King’s attempt to encapsulate the epic spirt of the Lord of the Rings? What happens in a novel that critics praised as being believable and captivating? Middling, guilt ridden white protagonists who could have easily appeared in his million other books drive Vespa’s around the country in search of a magical n***o while an early prototype of an Incel and a guy called the “Trashcanman” attempt to foil their nascent all American republic/theocracy. Seriously he’s called the Trashcan man and he takes down the Sauron archetype with a nuclear bomb. Were the editors tied to bed by over zelous fans? In a talent exclusive only to new American author’s King sails through an apocalypse with no curiosity, eyes firmly closed to any new possibilities arriving at the same old vices with a post-apocalyptic aesthetic. It’s incredible how easily it fits in with the exhausted zombie movie craze that refuses to die.

If you’re ever looking for a good lead onto the decline and fall of the US empire, something like the Sopranos but for literature, look into why something like this would be successful while a novel like the Earth Abides is banished to obscurity. King has always leaned close to campy-ness but this is just the slop they feed hungry pigs.

Sacred Games Review

Spoilers Ahead

The French philosopher Lefebvre believed that we had advanced past the era of imperialism and into the era of the metropolis. Like most French intellectuals he was completely wrong.

There is nothing new about the metropolis. These days it is usually Gotham or New York. It was probably New York a hundred years ago too. Two hundred years ago you had Jack the Ripper or Sherlock running in the filth of London. As much as pulp fiction and detective novels enjoy professing a unwavering love towards their often crime ridden, stinky muses, they are pretty common.

In fact empires always seem to create these unsavory, unpleasant masses of humanity that crime fighters love. Two thousand years ago it was Rome; and for all the awesome artifacts and chaste marble that remains it sucked for most people in it. Time and again masses of peasants are squeezed off their land and come to these cities as lumpen proles, without land, income, craft, trade and soon enough without any tradition at all. A least they had the games and races in the Roman age.

It is here that Vikram Chandra’s novel excels, when it shows us the cruel, chaotic, tragic lives of the poorest and most common inhabitants of these cities. We see characters of all classes and cultures, brought together by the coercive forces of history, or more accurately, capitalist development. They are pushed and pulled by forces beyond their control as the Indian republic flexes unthinkingly from the partition, from its ambition, its tragedies, hate and bureaucratic lethargy.

There is a great tradition of Indian English literature producing dull, unimaginative retellings of family friendly mythology without a subversive word in their glossary. It’s incredible how popular authors manage to mention sex and caste less than 3000 year old texts. This novel admirably is not of that tradition, with more swears than punctuation. Most admirable of all is the fact that it flirts with villainous protagonists, unapologetic cruelty and it has meaningful observations of caste, religion and sex.

The one fatal flaw is that it could have used a really merciless editor towards the end of the novel. In the novel American Psycho (and in the movie too) Patrick Bateman goes on for page after tedious page, monologuing about his endless list of overpriced luxury items. The idea is to make it unbearable for the reader. You are forced to hear so much about his garbage because you are to have no room for doubt when you realise that this rich, well groomed man is a complete loser. A empty, husk of a man who hates humanity, who feels nothing- the embodiment of the ruling class under the President Reagan.

Unfortunately I faced the same effect when it turns into some 200 hundred pages of a criminal mastermind tediously explaining every insight on his path to spiritual enlightenment. It is well intentioned, it is not disagreeable. Yet it is not the same as interesting, especially after a smooth and fast paced first half that doesn’t relent. Why not cut through these long winded introspections and show us the journey through a few more characters? The novel manages to introduce curious characters right till the end. It also manages to subtly point out the truth behind the machismo and spiritual mastery of the characters is been building up for chapter after chapter even when things really heat up. It’s unfortunate that the author didn’t lean on this skill of his more consistently.

On a technical level too, these introspections don’t hold up because they seem quite out of place. As though the spiritual malaise and anxiety talked about are clearly from a middle class mind – something like the mind of an author, let’s say– and not really from the mind of an inspector or criminal. Not that I have much insight but having read Agni Shreedhar autobiography, there are clear indications that his priorities, self image and desires aren’t quite… usual, even if he’s constantly being silent on certain topics.

By the end I was more interested in hearing from the immigrants, the failed revolutionaries and maybe even the stand in for Dawood Ibrahim and his love for the godfather movies than yet another long spiritual quest. It isn’t in the pedigree of detective novels to just follow random characters but I think the book would have been better for it.

The adaptation is also an interesting thing to examine. Obviously it too struggles with the ending. I would argue that like the book it should have done away with the long spiritual journey and kept the ending close by. The more important take away is how they had to change the ending with the times. In the novel, the world just goes on in the end. Not much changes in the world, Inspector Sartaj has his world change but the system goes on and no one is any wiser. This makes sense, because regardless of nuclear scares, the book was written during the “end of history” , when people thought that the liberal order had won. A few years later, the adaption features the same story with the same conspiracy, the same villains, the same religious fanatics and the same plot, yet today the story must end with a possible apocalypse. It just wouldn’t feel realistic if it didn’t end that way.

Attack on character development

I picked up Attack on Titan (AOT) after a while and I couldn’t help but put down a few things that rubbed me the wrong way.

Of course the strengths of the series, and most Shonen, still shine through with the pacing, concept and emotional tension being pretty good. But I was a little less enthused since it seemed to be written for adolescents more than it is about adolescents.

I’m not saying it’s juvenile but the writing and characterisation are definitely a kind of wish fulfillment for that adolescent urge to defy authority, righteously struggle for some cause and fit in with a group of companions. Compare that with say Akira, where you also have young adolescents up to onerous tasks. What stands out is that Akira’s characters are more fleshed out. Their flaws, age, doubts come out in conversations, in the way they interact and their actions.

In contrast the characters in AOT are always moving from one revelation to another, their conflicts always in service to some greater ideal they uphold or some great tragedy that they are haunted by. I couldn’t help but feel that these faces have more motive than character. It makes for an intoxicating pace that has the plot constantly moving even during political posturing but it ends up hurting the characters, leaving little room for development. These characters don’t live beyond their service to the plot.

There’s little breathing room like how Akira shows its main characters being underage hooligans, layabouts and delinquents hanging around shady bars but just as easily have their heroics entirely dependent on their impulsive, angst-y behavior. They aren’t caricatures, they do ask great questions and change the world but they’re still realistically within a transformational period in their lives. They aren’t ideological warriors, they’re living out their pasts even in what they believe – there’s more subtlety, nuance and humanism.

The tedious focus on the one or two characters that the entire world revolves around wouldn’t be that unbearable if there were any characters with the will power to disagree or not go along with the latest inspirational speech that’s being flung at them. The AOT world has no room for doubts, uncertainty or shifting moods in the human mind. You agree or disagree, you’re on the red team or the blue team. We get spoonful after spoonful but no time to chew.

What seems to have hurt the series is that the personal motive driven plot had to go from the high intensity of family avenging, friend slaying action that went rooftop to rooftop to a slow burn of exposition that suddenly found the story having to explain an entire history, social context, lore etc. The pacing is admirably consistent from the days of tense Titian slaying to and endless series of palace coups but without the life threatening danger, the same things that worked earlier start to show their weaknesses.

It’s a shame because, in hindsight, the survival focused story telling was some of the strongest I’ve read and so much of what the story continues to do made so much more sense since it was also in service to this constant tension. By giving way what the titans were the series kind of gave way the main threat. There is no more doom, no more end of the word as interesting. The world war plot is fine, the exposition wasn’t too clumsily delivered even if it wasn’t subtle, but it just isn’t as interesting.

When the Colossal Titian kicked down that wall, it genuinely felt like the end of the world was slowly creeping up, that hopelessness and desperation we got a worms eye view of never came back.

Addendum: Ernin the child trying to protect his own is far more interesting than Enrin the political schemer trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and the necessary prerequisites for Geo-politcal domination. It’s not hard to see how the entire series can be read within the context of the Japanese experience of WW2. The devastation, the end of the peace, family life etc. The humanism and trying to survive, rebuild etc. is compelling, but the unapologetic attitude, the kind of equivalency between crimes, love of Royalty and the idea that the Eldians were kind of bad in a country that has never apologized for its war crimes and is still run by the decedents of war criminal is a whole other can of worms that I’m not going to open.

Horror in my hallway

Junji Ito is both brilliant and disgusting. I’d had meant to write about this a while back but between my personal computer dying with a frightening knock sound and long awaited exams (only delayed by a month) I had to put it off.

While my friends were faced with the horrors of parroting behaviorists who were convinced the mind didn’t really exist (you’d be inclined to agree after reading their mindless ideas) I was enjoying Ito’s work. I no longer have access to those chapters but I think simply recounting his stories should work well enough.

Ito writes short horror manga that’s unlike anything else out there. It’s not particularity scary and the body horror isn’t enough to make you turn away. Most people I’ve convinced to read him end up giving me a look of concern and get to repressing the stories from conscious memory.

Ito’s Japanese background might help, there’s an Asian sensibility that I’m never able to put my finger on. But what really makes his work click is that uncanny sense of familiarity. There’s something about his stories that seems to echo an almost conversational recollection of horrors, ghosts and monstrosities. Relatable cultural taboos, settings and moralistic implications that I could see coming from so many people I know. He writes horror simple, weird and relatable.

There’s one story that features a demon that seduces houses. Another has a time traveling bird demon that feeds lost mountaineers but then never decides to stop helping, visiting them everyday for a force-fed meal of human flesh. One has a fortune teller behead an unfaithful boyfriend with a single strand of hair. He won’t die till he lets his head drop of course, so she forces cockroaches down the gap to get him to let go. My favorite involves a man who develops a fetish for living- yes living- secretly inside peoples chairs.

The most wholesome I’ve seen him is a story where it turns out half the people in it are actually dead and one where a abused social worker comes back as a vengeful spirit and helps a neurotic young girl overcome her anxiety by killing her ex boyfriend.

If you’ve got the stomach and a little time for some weird, uncomfortable horror try starting with the Enigma of Agigara Fault- .

Cuckold: A Review

Could you imagine Game of Thrones in a Indian setting?

Okay, so maybe that opener is a little clickbaity but you wouldn’t believe just how much I want people to read this book. I’ll start with a confession. Every time I pass by the Indian writing section at a bookstore my hair stands on end. It seems that there has been an abundance of Indian authors whose ability to write in English was enough justification for publishers to let them unleash their horrendous mediocrity on an unsuspecting public. Often these would be Chetan Bhagat’s look to Indian history and mythology and manage to rewrite them with less sophistication and thought than Wikipedia articles on said history or mythology.

It was a month ago at Blossoms that I was nodding my head pretending I understood what my friend was saying about some ideology. I picked up a book to avoid having to respond when I got hooked to the second page. It saw that it was 700 pages and 500 RS and decided to put it away. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the dam book.

There’s an interesting paragraph on a money lender of my religion that manages to expose the cynical way Jainism ends up begin practiced. It read-

“You give alms you earn merit. You feed the poor or the Digambaras , you collect some more merit. Pacifism is a capital investment of the highest order. It’s a kind of super-compound interest scheme with an eye on both heaven and earth. Extend the metaphor and it has a foot in the here and now, and the ever after. Let’s look at the latter first. The more merit your earn, the more likely you are to abridge the number of reincarnations you have to go through to reach the kind of enlightened state which gets you to moksha. In the meanwhile, just see how profitable the fruits of non-violence are in this life. You stay white and pure while someone else, someone like me and my Rajput clan does the sinning and the killing.” 

In 4 pages I had come across a damming indictment of Jainism’s flaws that even I would struggle to articulate. Maybe this means nothing to you but it sure got me hooked. Don’t worry there’s a lot more to the book than cynicism. That’s probably why I was able to blow through its 700 pages in 3 days.

The story is set in a Rajput kingdom right before the invasion of Babur. We follow a would be king who’s wife has made him a cuckold; she is in love with a god. This is based on actual history but since there is little we know about it, history is just the background on which Kiran Nagarkar paints a fascinating tale. What makes the novel interesting for all 700 pages is the main character, who is surprisingly modern, intelligent and very rational. Unfortunately the reality of court politics, tradition, scheming etc. smacks him around all the time. He struggles to come to terms with his own ambition, his love and frustration towards his family and traditions, his unorthodox thinking in a honor bound society, his eccentric wife and ultimately his own mind which he learns is doomed to be irrational.

Since this isn’t a book series like a Song of Ice and Fire you get a proper literary study of this man. The book works not just as a story about wars and politics, it’s also a struggle to come to terms with modern, or maybe ancient anxieties. Unlike other historical fiction the book isn’t slavishly dedicated to accuracy, like say Wolfhall. It feels all the better for it. There are many interesting characters and insights like into people like Babur and his excellent writing, homosexual desires etc.

The only criticism I would offer is that sometimes the language is too modern; hearing about school bells in the 14th century might take you out of the book . I saw a review on Goodreads that said the reviewer couldn’t make it past the 23rd page because of it but I think that’s a terrible reason to miss out on so good a story (and why did the idiot review a book he hadn’t read?). As the author himself says he wanted the language to work to make the novel readable and not historical and that definitely makes the 700 pages seem brief.

The book feels Indian and I doubt if it has reached foreign shores, which is a great tragedy. There is a German translation interestingly enough. Kiran Nagarkar even won the Sahitya Akademi award for it in 2000. It’s a great and interesting read and a kind of book you only come across rarely in Indian literature.

Habibi Review

Habibi is a graphic novel by Craig Thompson set in a fantasy oriental landscape. Habibi is Thompson’s attempts to humanize the people and the traditions of the middle east.

You can clearly see the similarities with his excellent previous work- Blankets. The similarity can also help you decide if you will like Habibi or not. Thompson writes from a very personal perspective. One that doesn’t really care to censor anything a general audience might find gross or unpalatable.

This is very important if you’re reading Habibi because Thompson mixes in brutality, suffering, violence etc. even when talking about the beauty of particular story or belief. Orthodox Muslims and Christians might find his rewriting of Biblical and Islamic tales heretical or even offensive.

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A page from Habibi

But Thompson isn’t trying to offend he’s attempting to translate. Thompson is working against the general trend of vilifying Islamic peoples or art. He build on the shared traditions and beliefs of all Abrahamic religions explaining why people believe them or why they are beautiful.

His use of violence and disturbing themes might put off a lot of people but it’s necessary to what he’s trying to do. He uses a modern sort of story telling that involves conflict, sex and crudeness to translate what these ideas and stories mean in a style that is understandable to a modern audience. It is meant not for believers or racists but for people who have been exposed to and are concerned by the growing Islamophobic narrative over the years.

The art style remains similar to blankets but adapts a from that is clearly inspired by Arabic calligraphy. Images from all Abrahamic faith are used repeatedly while we follow the story of the two main protagonists caught in a cruel and filthy world that is a mix of history and modernity.

Their story is full of suffering and brutality, much like the rest of the world in the story. Prospects are always bleak and the fact that the characters can survive their ordeals with some shred of hope is the closest thing to a happy ending the book has. One might find the characterizations and the depiction of the region, which involves a lot of violence, offensive or problematic but there is little else to complain about.

Some have also complained about the length of the novel but I found that it only takes a few hours to finish. Thompson creates a violent, beautiful world in his attempt to translate the experiences and traditions of the middle east which is well worth the read.

A School for Scandle

A School for Scandal, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s’ comedy of manners, is a surprisingly fast and entertaining read despite being about as old as the United States.

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A School for scandal

A Comedy of Manner

A comedy of manner is a form of entertainment that satirizes a social class using  witty dialogue and stereotypical characters.  It’s like most sitcoms we have today, except intelligent. Staying true to the characteristics of comedies of manner, you often know quite a bit about a character with just their names. All the Moses’s, Sneerwells, Snakes, and Surfaces induce giggle with every appearance. Things get serious soon enough though.

The story might not be rather original, or very important in a comedy of manners for that matter, but it is rather engaging. It took me about 2 hours to read the entire text; I’d wager that watching the play would be a much shorter and more entertaining affair. The language wasn’t very archaic either.

Now for the most important aspect of all comedies of manner- the wit. This play certainly has a lot of it. Sharp comment fly at characters with every plot point and keep the play humorous. The plays’ main concerns are integrity, libel, and of course scandal. The story and wit revolve around these matter and the nice people have happy ending and the bad ones have bad endings. It might sound simple but the wit is plentiful and the values delivered. This was unusual for that time; most comedies of manner had the ill-doers get away.

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A 1937 production of the play

Themes, Motifs, Plot

The message about scandal, libel, and rumor are still relevant in a world where Rupert Murdoch still publishes about a million tabloids a day.

Sheridan might have been writing a comedy whose humor may not translate too well with modern audiences with society being a lot more progressive and diverse. But if you know a little history about the rigid, wealth and decadent upper class of the 1800’s you’ll find the play very entertaining. If humor doesn’t seem to reveal itself, remember this is a satire and look for the wit and parody among the prudes on stage. There isn’t any central character to drive the play, because the upper class and their scandalous ways and disregard of propriety is the main focus. This is something that’ll either make the play a chore or refreshing.

There is a lot of antisemitism in the play. Although Moses is shown to be a kind man, that seems to be played as a aberration. This is something audiences should expect from plays of that era and from R.B Sheridan who has a reputation for making choice comments about women authors and the Irish. Audiences may also be surprised by the amount of affairs and sexual escapades that are hinted at in the play.

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Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Why should you care?

R.B Sheridan is a man worth know about. Any man who went from class dunce to dueler to play write is worth reading about.

If that doesn’t interest you the fact that Sheridan makes a scathing critic of the hypocrisy and prudishness of the upper class at a time when it was solidifying, and managed to be funny about it makes the play worth a watch or read.

Rebecca

Rebecca, a novel by Daphne du Maurier, is an engrossing tale told through the eyes of an imaginative young woman as she marries a wealthy English man, and discovers many sinister truths at his beautiful country estate of Manderly.

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A copy of Rebecca

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again”

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again” a simply but haunting line that sets the tone for the narrators recollections. The novel is also teeming with  quotable lines by the way. We never learn her first or maiden name, she is simply called Mrs. De winter after she is married. Even while her narration has just begun, and she still serves as companion to the tactless Mrs. Van Hooper, her tendency to present herself as a very naive, doubtful and imaginative girl is apparent. Well, she never really calls herself imaginative but hardly a chapter goes by where the narrator does not stop to immerse herself in fantasy. If these things irritate you, I doubt you’ll enjoy the novel.

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A still from Alfred Hitchcock’s’ 1940 adaptation

Like everything else in the novel, things take quite a while to unfold, but eventually the narrator finishes her tales of how she married Max, or Maxim de Winter as he’s popularly known. She is still very doubtful and cautious, and Max isn’t very open about his emotions. With their large age difference, Max’s’ reserve, her constant worry and the shadow of Rebecca (Max’s’first wife) hanging over them  you’d assume their relationship was doomed to fail.

When the narrative reaches the vast, beautiful estate of Manderly, where Rebeccas’ presence threatens to leap from every corner, every fear that the narrator refuses to forget seems to be justified. This stretch of the story also introduces Mrs. Danvers, a character who instills the fear of propriety like no other. All is not as it seems in Manderly and the people are more sinister than the narrators many flights of fantasy dared imagine.

Mrs. De winter and Mr De Winter seem to develop a real relationship only as things threaten to get worse for them. It isn’t hard to see the major twists coming (I won’t give it away) but reading it is still thrilling. The many characters introduced, their kindness, their love for Rebecca and Manderly all become sources of tension, of a tragedy just waiting to unfurl itself. A friend declared I was reading this part so hard my eyes threatened to pop out.You’ll probably expect the ending and maybe even accuse it of being a conveniently happy one but Daphne du Maurier is able to translate the many quirks of the narrator into an endearing figure who you’ll be rooting for all across the end.

Some might argue that the ending wasn’t all that happy, the fate of Manderly, and the narrators craving for tea might have been the cause of many future worries and flights of fantasy but I disagree. It isn’t as threatening as the other problems the couples faced,it is no ultimatum, and it is nothing they cannot live without. And I have a feeling that the tragic is something the narrator craved deep down. Perhaps that’s why she loved those fantastic day dreams, those long looks back into the past.

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A young Daphne du Maurier

Moonstone

This one’s been a long time coming. The Moonstone is an excellent Victorian detective novel cum thriller with a bit of oriental flavoring.

I was supposed to finish reading this for my course but I never finished it as I heard of the ending before I was halfway done. The fact that I was able to finish Bleak house and Middlemarch in a few days and took months to finish Moonstone had a few of my friends questioning my humanness. Their concern isn’t all that unwarranted.

Wilkie Colins’ The Moonstone could easily be mistaken for something written in the early 20th century. The language is simple, far removed from the intimidating wordplay that puts most people off Victorian writing. The story is narrated through journals written by the characters. This doing away of the omniscient narrator does wonders for the story. The reader often knows little more than the characters and is on his or her toes the entire time. It also helps cut away any flab that might slow own the story. The story and mystery take their time to unravel but this is never really a bother for previously mentioned reason. The unceasing exposure to the characters’ thoughts and deviations fleshes out their personalities and make everything that’s said more relevant and very often- endearing.

The mystery that the story revolves around is engaging and the narration manages to slip you a revelation just before you start to get impatient. The story is undeniably well written and it would be a very pleasant thing to finish on the high note that is Betteredges’ endearing epilogue. There are plenty of memorable lines, characters and quips I doubt anyone is likely to forget. If you ever find someone who has read the moonstone, threaten to quote Robinson Crusoe and I guarantee a laugh.

However, there are the three Indian and the Moonstone that steal attention at the end of the book. It would have been very easy to have just forgotten about them after the epilogue but Collins decides otherwise. In doing so Collins seems to draw attention to the story of the Moonstone, the Indians, Hinduism, faith, caste and list of other things.Stories that had been hidden away under all the drama. Why? I’m not really sure. It work’s beautiful, yes. But why?

This fascination Collins brings to everything from the Moon to Tipu Sultan adds a little something to the book, that just invites you to wonder. Was Collins enamored with the idea of duty and the cycles of time? We can never really be sure, but there’s no denying the Moonstones brilliance.

Hedda Gabler

It isn’t often you enjoy reading about cruel characters who manipulate,cheat and drive people to kill themselves but Henrik Isben pulls it off.

I don’t really read a lot of plays, but Hedda Gabler makes me reconsider my indifference towards them. You’re thrown straight into the thick of the story. Huge revelations, twists and explanations float by, unnoticeable to all but the most observant viewers. To the outsiders in the play, the characters must seem like happy, well off and respectable people. But we the view see gratuitous amounts of dissatisfaction. Unhappy meaningless marriages, deception, affairs, manipulation, jealousy. These aren’t happy, well adjusted characters we’re dealing with.

Hedda Gabler and all the other characters are bound by their past, by their genders, by their failings and try desperately to find a little happiness or at least escape boredom. Hedda despite being cruel, manipulative, exploitative remains a likable character. It feels wrong to call her an anti-hero. There only a few lines about her past, but that’s all you need to know about her struggles to stick to gender norms. She is her fathers’ daughter, Hedda Gabler, and not Hedda Tesman, Tesmans’ wife.

Tesman is a kind soul, an ambitious and dedicated scholar and husband but without great talent. He’s naive, spoilt and oblivious to the many many times he’s been hoodwinked. His rival Lovbog tarnishes his reputation (along with that of his lover) and wastes his talent and Hedda aids his destruction. Thea, restricted to the sidelines, can only watch silently as her life is ruined and her work destroyed.

When boredom, rebellion and independence are no longer an option, death becomes Heddas’ solace. When all the other characters are able to put aside their own frustrations and realize Hedda has shot herself, it is said “People don’t do such things”. Even in death the characters are bound by the need to be respectable  and polite.

A medium length play that might annoy quite a few with its dark, bleak approach and cruel characters, Hedda Gabler manages to be an engrossing look into the minds of people desperately trying to deal with the boring world polite society tries to create.