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.

rebecca
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.

manderley
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.

young_daphne_du_maurier
A young Daphne du Maurier
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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.

House On Mango Street

In English spoken as Spanish, Sandra Cineros tells us all about her life at Mango street, in this short and excellent novella.

Through her tiny tales about Mango streets Cineros talks about nothing in particular, but still manages to effortlessly say so much. Every chapter takes, at most, 5 minutes to finish. Everything from the names for snow, clouds, race, sex, adolescence and culture gushes out from the writing. When you finish the book, you’ll know this living breathing street full of Latin American immigrants. You’ll probably know the juiciest gossip in and around Mango street too.

I’ve read the book twice in 3 hours. The re-reading value is ludicrous. Every entry is so varied, diverse and filled with this exotic reality that keeps you hooked. The tiny length of the stories makes it extremely easy to pick up and read casually.

Latin American culture and the Spanish Language are major sources of influence but it isn’t limited to that. Stories can feature Spanish phrases rolling of tongues and little girls hurling abuses at each other. Cieros makes no attempt to rant about serious issues, discuss the treatment of Latin Americans in America, talk about the usual jazz about life in poverty.

Cieros grapples with her sense of belonging and her futile longing to escape, to not belong, all while narrating terribly tiny tales that fascinate, engross and ooze beauty.

Collected Stories:Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Where do I start with Marquez? The first story is about a corpse[?] describing his long draw out decomposition.

Nearly 300 pages of bizarre, strange stories that baffle you with ever line. When Marquez had a normal story halfway through the book I was certain I was reading the wrong book.The book will be really hard to follow for the uninitiated but if you stick with it and try to figure out what Marquez is doing with every line, story and idea that he throws at you, you’ll be amazed. You’ll still be a little dazed and lost but it’s worth the effort.

The reading experience is mystical. The various sections of the book  seem disconnected, like surreal images from forgotten dreams. Now and then a few… ideas [not characters, ideas] in earlier stories, within a section, make a cameo in the most random places in another story and you are left wondering what just happened. Once you’ve picked yourself off the floor and try to figure out what happened, you realize everything makes sense even if you can never explain it with words.

I worry that this little write up isn’t long enough but in my defense Marquez needs to read to be understood, it’s hard to describe the  sort of  literary wizardry Marques puts on display. Describing a ghost ship that makes no sound the first time it  crashes and hides for half a life time is like a lamp. Functional but not crafted with passion. Reading about Marquez just isn’t as reading Marquez.  If you don’t mind having your brain tossed around like salad the book is definitely worth picking up.

1Q84-Book 3

One of the worst things I’ve done this semester is call Murakami the Japanese Paulo Coelho. It took me a long time to get around to finishing the last part of the trilogy. Partly because I had a lot of other things to finish reading and partly because I was afraid the trilogy would end up being disappointment.

The novel has mad ambition. It raises expectations and suspense like crazy. Halfway through the last part of the trilogy I worried that Murakami could not help but disappoint. The world and stakes keep intensifying at such a terrifying rate that you assume the only way a conclusion can be reached is through some conventional cop out ending. A few of my friends had read some short stories and novels by Murakami which they found rather disappointing which ruined my confidence in Murakami’s ability to tell a story. I wondered if I had been taken for a ride.

In 1Q84 Murakmai proves himself an excellent storyteller able to keep the reader hooked and create interesting characters. But I never felt confident enough to pass judgement until I got to the ending. There is so much going on that your just dying for a conclusive end to tie up everything- miracle births, tiny spirit men, miracle ejaculations, chapters where one of the main characters is a corpse, all the fantastic elements introduced in the previous novel mixed up in a world where death is very real, and very thing runs according to the girding rules of reality. The reality bit is very important, even works that revolve around “believable” settings tend to exaggerate and take things further than things would go in the real world. Here things are extremely realistic, something like buying a gun, disposing a body,surveillance aren’t things that are very easy to do. Even the pros need to extremely cautious and aren’t super efficient archetypes. There are two scenes where characters need to take taxis on  a busy freeway. In any other book this would barely get a line.Here this gets stares, questions, this is a risky, unusual step, that has people commenting on their odd behavior and people citing regulations, very few books would bother to depict this.

You’d be surprised that this extreme painstaking realism that does not ever take any liberties exists in a world with two moons in the sky, air chrysalises,phantom cable fee collectors etc. There is also a very elaborate play going hidden behind the plot. This might be Murakami playing with the story telling, what is called real in stories,how much the characters know about the stories they are in etc in general. Even if he took away the fantastic element in the story and the world he creates, the story or the romantic plot would still be fantastic and never happen in the real world. But you can be sure that this is what we’d call believable in any other book. The fantastic elements in the book, they exist and they  are extremely beautiful and very symbolic. I half  a mind to go through the book reading only the fantasy bits.It’s easy to lose yourself and start day dreaming about the sky as described in the book. I’ve been looking at the moon every day since I began reading the books.

There isn’t much that the reader discovers about Japanese culture. You learn about Japanese law but not culture. I don’t know if this is due to translation, if Murakami writes for an international audience. But this is not a bad thing. I can’t come up with any thing else I’d call bad about the book. A few chapters in I forgot ever doubt I had, blazed through the remaining chapters and went out to look at the moon.

I’ve heard a lot of praise for Murakami and I know a lot of people who think he’s overrated. I can’t comment on his other works but the 1Q84 trilogy is simply amazing and well worth the read.

Chronicles Of A Death Foretold

The blurb tells you he will die.

It tells you why and it tells you who does it. So why read what Marques writes? Maybe its the how. Maybe it’s just the desire for a little closure. Why should a story tell you everything anyway?

Back when I was a kid I had a dog, Zoolfy, he was white the untouched parts of a new unruled notebook. I don’t remember much about him, I was six at the time and my father killed him before I got to know him better. What I do remember is a story about him that my family repeats every time that start reminiscing about the pets they had. On seeing one of the many uncles that haunt the family for the first time, Zoofly hopped up on his lap and looked him in the eye. Man and dog stared at each other for sometime,I don’t know how much time but it was enough time for the family to decide that this stare lasted so long, that it was a story meant to be retold. What passed between man and dog on that ruined,decrepit chair?

I don’t know much about Zoofly or what went on his mind or who the uncle was or what he though or why neither of them made a sound. It’s interesting. It happened. People remembered it. It had no plot no great moral lesson. It just happened. It makes you think.

The murder happens. You might like the narrator and the man who is going to die or you may not. It doesn’t matter. You might hate the people who let the killings happen, the people who kill, the man who is killed- it doesn’t matter. Curiosity will keep you going.

Find your own morals and villains if you want to. The death happens weather you like it or not. You like everyone else in the story may never truly know if the wrong man was accused. The truth might never decide to reveal itself. You don’t even know why the narrator lists out all these little stories to you. You can never be sure if that fact that several people could have saved him is important.

Marques takes you for a ride. All you can do is sit back and wonder at everything you hear and everything you don’t.

Bleak house

Charles Dickens depiction of Victorian life, in his excellent novel, is brutal.

Yes it is a funny,enjoyable novel that makes a very pleasant read. But Dickens includes an unflinching depiction of the many social injustices that existed during the Victorian era. Rampant poverty, exploitation, bad government, gender inequality, child abuse everything is including in Bleak house. The beginning of the novel is quite bleak to say the least.

Esther Summerstone ,the main character, begins life on a very depressing note. She is seen as a cause of disgrace and isn’t well loved by her guardian. She never seems to escape her inadequacy and sense of self doubt even towards the end of the novel. She is constantly convinced that all kindness towards her is undeserved and tries hard [maybe a little too hard] to please everyone who is nice to her. She also picks up this desire to serve, through her education and her own lack of self confidence. Although she does not seem to mind the fact that she subservient it doesn’t seem very fair.

Lady Deadlock is far more tragic. She is forced to abandon Esther ,her daughter from before she married Sir Leicester. She never expresses what she really feels and is eternally bored. She seems quite depressed and isn’t able to properly communicate with Esther when she discovers her. The story of her life and death serve to criticise the many restrictions placed on women. These two women are the cause of much of the plot and are extremely compelling characters.

The criticism of the legal system scathes. The court of Chancery is the butt of jokes and ridicule. Not without good cause of course. Lawyers,Judges and the legal system are all put on trail and make very poor defenses. The legal system seem to be a cause of woe and madness with no real good coming from it.

The many miserable characters like Jo,Mr. Krook, Nemo are obsessed with it or tormented by it. A lot of compelling arguments are made to treat them with more kindness and to understand their suffering. Dickens ability to create great characters really shows here. Many fall in to usually narrow categories of poor or crazy but all of them stand out.

The plot revolves around many mysteries that are very slow to reveal themselves. From Esthers parentage, Nemos identity, the flight of Lady Deadlock etc are extremely engrossing. Mr. Bucket is one of the best literary detective around and his method of investigation is what keeps much of the book fascinating. Other characters like George and Tulkinghorn, who seem very one sided when introduced, becoming compelling figures in their own right.

The many characters with smaller roles are equally interesting and often hilarious. Its amazing characters like Mr&Mrs Snagsby, Mrs Jellyby, Mrs Pardiggle can exist in a novel where Jo,Jenny,Caddy etc also exist. The humor gets quite dark at times, it also jolts you out of serious though at times -in a good way.

I haven’t even begun to talk about Mr Jardyce, Ada or Richard because it becomes very hard to decide which characters are more important than the others. There just so many well developed and compelling characters that you might need several essays to do them justice.

There is so much that going on in any given point of the novel. The many characters and their troubles ,lives, fears, mysteries etc along with much social commentary.

One of the most consistent [and compelling] topics is Dickens view on poverty. The law seems to be very unsympathetic and ruthless towards them. The gloomy dwellings at tom all alone, Charleys life, Jo, its hard not to be moved by them. Dickens is really determined to put his point across. Arguing for the poor, for the rights of women to resist abuse and for women who conceived out of wedlock must have gone against popular morality back them.

The satire is brilliant,the humor very agreeable,the story and characters compelling but Dickens goes a step further and includes a very real depiction of suffering in Victorian England. Characters like Ada, Sir Leicester, Jo might not have very happy endings but by the time you reach Esters happy conclusion, you can’t help but feel the story has come to a pleasant  end.

With an excellent story, intriguing mysteries, compelling characters and great humor Bleak house is well worth a read.

1Q84 Book 2 July September

The last book ended with a cliff hanger that suggested the story was going to become more intense, and the many many questions that the first book raised would be answered. It did. Just not in the way you’d expect.

Murakami revisits what we already know while his characters try to understand the world they are in. The novel[within the novel], which was written in the first book, is elaborated on in a manner that makes you want go read the first book again and hit yourself for not seeing things more clearly the first time around. Yet again Murakami uses the novel that was written in the story to tell the reader where he/she should be looking. The readers like the characters do not receive any direct or complete answers. But make no mistake there is a lot of development.

The way this development works isn’t like the sort in most other stories. The development is extremely slow, minute and detailed. Because every single thing that happens in the story does something to alter the perception of the books characters, you never get bored or feel overwhelmed. The amount of detail and struggle, makes progression seem believable. It more philosophical progression than plot progression.

Few authors are able to repeat what has already been said over and over again and still make it interesting. Irrelevant and minute details in the characters individual stories grow in significance as they[ the characters] reflect on the changing world. Every time you look at a story again a few extra details you picked up as the other stories progressed change the meaning and relevance of everything you already knew. Anecdotes and idle chit-chit suddenly become incredibly important revelations that push the story in directions you would have never seen coming.

They also link up implied or unstated histories/stories as well, making the world far more and far more extraordinary. The fantastic difference ,between the real world and that of 1Q84, such as the two moons, air chrysalis etc blend in fantastically and do not actually make the story seem any less believable. In fact you might not care for them as much as for the love story that happens while the entire world around two people changes.

Everything in the first book is picked up, examined and elaborated on. These changes that encourage a sort of spiritual journey in both Tengo and Aomane, are the most interesting parts of the book. Their beliefs and motivations become as fantastic as the world around them. Perhaps this is why Murakami made the world around them so extraordinary, to try and show the reader how extraordinary certain beliefs can be even when compared to a sky with two moons.

The story moves slowly although it never seems to lose steam, Murakamis writing is again very essential in making it work. It isn’t easy to make you feel indifferent to a serial child rapist. However there are a few sentences that seem awkward at times, especially when talking about sex. And the idea that a person in japan would have croissants just sitting in their fridge doesn’t seem very believable to me. But I suppose croissants begin the most unbelievable thing in a story with two moons is a good thing.

1Q84 book 1 April-June

I haven’t read much Japanese literature and what I have read are biographies and material related to history. The even fewer works of literature that I have read consist of small poems and short stories. But I’ve always been interested in reading Japanese novels; while I do know of and have read much manga and other works that were written by Japanese authors I would not call them novels.

The style of narration and the episodic made the difference quite distinct. Manga, Anime and Japanese history always make for interesting reads. Having evolved from an island shadowed by china -which was often the mightiest, wealthiest and most respected nation on earth-to a place which has been able to come close to over shadowing Chinese history with Samurai,Manga and a history of modernization combined with fierce protection and preservation of what was thought to be Japanese. So when I bought a thick,heavy and expensive copy of Murakamis 1Q84 without knowing much beyond the fact that Murakami was a famous author I was very eager to see what was in store.

The books cover with a grey tree and peeling moon and a smaller green moon next to [along with a puzzling message at the back] did much to add to my assumption that there would be some sort of great mystery to uncover. The first chapter seemed to confirmed my beliefs when it proved to be extremely descriptive and well written- while it did not actually tell you much about what you actually want to know.

Aomane and Tengo seemed to shoot the book in opposite directions like a rubber ball at a tennis match. The more you read the more you wondered how these two people who were so different in nature and lifestyle could be related at all.

Murakamis writing really carries the novel. I don’t think many other writers could keep you interested while offering you so few actual hints about the true direction or purpose of the story in between so many vividly described details of the world they inhabit.

I did not however find much beyond the names of characters or places without which the story might be uniquely Japanese. That isn’t a bad thing, but it did seem unusual and I wonder if this is due to some overzealous translator.

Describing the story feels almost criminal as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. The manner in which bizarre hints and encrypted speech reveal at a tantalizingly slow pace more and more of the story and the two characters makes you feels the revelations must be earned. You are in lockstep with the characters and are often as surprised and as baffled as they are by what you discover.

The novel and writing within the story is also incredibly important [and clever] as it allows Murakami to come in and tell you all about his writing and story telling while also telling you how to read the story. The beginning of the book might inspire you to ask “Whats really happening?”. As I near the end of the second book I’d say I still  don’t know. I may know a lot more about the characters and their stories, I may have read through months of their lives but I don’t feeling any closer to answers. In fact both you and the characters have far more questions due to prior questions being answered. The way Murakami keeps you hooked on the long way to the end is simply a brilliant feat of story telling, one that is definitely  worth reading.