The Books This Week

Show me a girl in love, and I’ll show you a one-track mind. I had drifted off into daydreams, I worked myself into subplots of the book I was reading; it was all very distracting and made me a slow reader. But in the past week I had tried hard to get some much needed diversions, and succeeded. Four books. Aah! The reader has snubbed the lover. The Uncommon Reader, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin; English, August; Quiet Days in Clichy are already in the ‘read and relished‘ pile.

The Uncommon Reader has been reviewed as a ‘bedtime story for adults‘. It is that good. A delightful capsule of wit, reading, libraries and even a queen. The repercussions of being a royal and a reader too. I learnt the word opsimath; a person who learns late in life, and I think I’m one too. I wish I had a Norman in my life; someone to discuss books with, and who would suggest what to read next. But definitely someone without any specific preferences, like Norman had for gay writers. I will carry this little book in my handbag always. For a quick pep up.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I had searched nearly all of the bookstores in Guwahati for this book. I never ordered it online. I wanted to chance upon it among a pile of books and relish a moment of quiet serendipity. And I did, when I found an old, worn-out, almost tattered copy buried under a pile of cookbooks in Daryaganj book market. It has a war, but it is about love. All sorts of love; laced with lust, platonic; and the one where it is “what is left when the passion has gone“. I enjoyed the latter. The narratives are scattered; the reader can’t rest. Pelagia and Corelli. Read their story. My wait was worth it.

English, August. It’s about surviving a sense of inner dislocation, of being a foreigner in one’s own land, of clashes in perspectives, of thinking in English and working with the vernaculars. It’s about the coveted cadre of IAS officers and the inner flurry of adjustment troubles in rural India where they begin their journeys. The prose is pithy and contemporary. Agastya is a city boy; he reads voraciously, listens to rock music, smokes marijuana and touches himself thinking about the pert bottom of a tribal woman who comes to him for some work. He thinks, he tries, he suffocates, he finds himself. The narrative feels like a good friend telling you about his life on a long evening; which won’t be stretching it too far, because it’s ‘slice of life’ fiction from the author’s life. Go back to Agastya’s life in tiny pockets of time stretched over a week. You’ll enjoy it more.

Quiet Days in Clichy. If you are a woman, you should leave behind all your gender-associated sensitivity in some deep cranny, and retrieve them only after you are done reading this book. A thinly veiled autobiography of the writer’s early life in Paris as an yet unknown writer, this book disturbs you as much as it captivates you; maybe the disturbance is the bait. It’s about fucking prostitutes (stress on the plural) on quiet, rainy days in Paris by two struggling writers. However nauseating it sounds here, if you can disassociate your inner feminist for a moment to enjoy the prose you might like it. I don’t want to go down that lane and analyze; but I keep telling myself that it doesn’t degrade me as a woman if I enjoy reading Henry Miller, Hemingway or even our own Khushwant Singh. I haven’t watched the film. I figure the visuals would be too much; I’ve kept the words subdued in my imagination. I need a palate cleanser now. Something that deifies my gender.

 I will read ‘Birdsong” by Sebestian Faulks next.

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