Friday, December 30, 2005

Bella Bathurst - Special

This is my first post on this blog. So please be gentle.

It's a review of Bella Bathurst's 2002 book, Special.


A group of adolescent schoolgirls, accompanied by two teachers, are in the Forest of Dean to have an 'activity break' between the end of their exams and the end of term. Drink, drugs, sex, hate and anorexia are the order of the day.


I have a very fickle mind, and I get bored with things very easily. Reading has been my OTJ (One True Joy) ever since I clapped eyes on the immortal words 'A is for Apple', but I do sometimes get bored of reading too. And at such times, I need a book that is a revelation, that gets me excited about reading again. A book that is, as Stephen King might put it, boss. And as you might have guessed, this is one of those books.

Special is an honest, brutal, disturbing, and at the same time perfectly-pitched, story of teenage angst, and it is one of those books that actually manage to make sense of it. Angst no longer seems an indulgence. Special reminds us why it happens, how it happens. And along the road it deals with sexuality, self-obsession, self-loathing, lapses in logic, lost virginities, intimacy and self-destructive behaviour – all the expected clichés.

The basic focus is on three girls, Jules, the outgoing 'average' one, Hen, the withdrawn one, Ali, the loner, and a fourth girl, Caz, the 'perfect' one, who wanders in the background for the whole book before coming into focus at the end. Each one has problems. Some are big, some aren't, but they exist, and Bathurst analyses them wonderfully, almost tenderly, before letting us make up our minds about them.

But the best things about the book are the little things which might be (very mistakenly) easily ignored. The first of these is the writing. Bathurst's writing is my favourite kind of writing – extremely readable, but rich in unusual description and detail which actually makes up the meat of the book without in any way drawing away from the characters. Her skills of pointing out idiosyncratic truths are developed to an almost frightening extent, with every observation ringing true. The second is the manner in which the pace has been built – moving from one character to another smoothly, without being chaotic, and while retaining the individual tensions of each character. These tensions are such that I found myself turning the pages with trembling hands in a way I hadn't done since around ten years ago when I was a horror junkie.

I do have a few grouses against the book, some fairly objective, and some personal. The ending, in particular, strikes me as overdramatic, and, more important, needlessly overdramatic. Apart from that, my personal complaint is that the book is cynical and depressing. I can't bring myself to believe that the teenage world has become so ... gruesome. I can live with the fact that the happier (and therefore less interesting) characters aren't dealt with, but I feel that they should at least be implied. This book, if intended to serve as a microcosm, should have included those characters. But if you personally feel that this isn't a flaw, feel free to forget this paragraph.

In conclusion, you have to read this book. You might not agree with it, but it has a point, and it makes it beautifully. It is, indeed, special. (Okay, I promised myself I would not say that, but sometimes you can't help it.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


I didn't have the greatest Christmas...especially since we had relatives over. I tend to resent anyone outside the immediate family butting in. Yesterday and today I made it up to myself with nice long 'comfort sessions'.

So I watched the entire Pride and Prejudice BBC series and then read a Georgette Heyer novel and three Asterixes.

Pride and Prejudice is brilliant, and I love the BBC adaptation. Jennifer Ehle's so wonderfully Lizzielike that it's easy to forget that she isn't that pretty. Colin Firth is...*breathes heavily* just perfect.
The English department in college decided to screen this last year (in two sessions, no one was going to stay five hours after college) and the effect it had on people was rather unnerving. There's something very disturbing about being in a roomful of sexually aroused young girls who make animal noises at intervals. The Firth bath scene was greeted with the loudest response. I did not show my appreciation in so crass a manner. I whimpered quietly to myself.
I still haven't seen the most recent version of P&P, or the Laurence Olivier version. I think (blasphemy!) Keira Knightley looks the part better than Jennifer Ehle. But if the spirit of the book is 'light and bright and sparkling', the BBC adaptation captures it perfectly.

Georgette Heyer is one of the only authors my mother and I can both read (another is Agatha Christie). I don't know if there's some deep rooted feminine need for books about feisty, beautiful girls (of the upper class, please) falling in love with rich, dark men. But we certainly seem to like them. I do, anyway. And when they're accompanied by descriptions of regency dinners, horses and snuffboxes, they're made even better. Georgette Heyer's books may not have more *substance* than your average Mills & Boon (though it's nice that her heroines don't have unidimensional characters. And she's less mushy) but they're delightful anyway.

Asterix needs a seperate entry.

The above forms of entertainment must be combined with tea and pakoras, coffee, chikki, and occasionally chicken soup. There must be a quilt and lots of pillows, a big old sweatshirt, and a Leonard Cohen greatest hits CD playing in the background. Merry Christmas, everyone. :)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Manticore's Secret

I promised myself I wouldn't read this book till the 23rd - there was far too much to do. Which is why I felt rather naughty reading it on sunday.

I have very little to say really. Except that it's even better than the last. Go buy now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Polly Toynbee on Narnia

On an intellectual level, it's easy for me to agree with this article. But on an emotional's Narnia. How could I ever not love Narnia?

Thanks, Uma. :)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

And since I mention Peake so often...

"As I see it, life is an effort to grip before they slip
through one’s fingers and slide into oblivion, the
startling, the ghastly or the blindingly exquisite fish of
the imagination, before they whip away on the endless
current and are lost for ever in oblivion’s black ocean.”

Saturday, December 03, 2005

On a first reading of Iron Council

The first time I even heard of China Miéville was on TORC, where someone reccoed Perdido Street Station with more enthusiasm than I'm used to. So I was vaguely on the lookout for it, and found it in April 2004 in Teksons. I might not have bought it even then, but there was a blurb by Neil Gaiman on the cover, and (turning to the acknowledgements page) a nod of gratitude to Mervyn Peake. I had to buy it.
Perdido was a brilliant book - very strong and very painful, at the end. I loved the detail that went into the history and geography of Bas-Lag, the politics, and (most of all, for some reason) the Ribs. Here was the potential for something as vast as Tolkien, as lush as Peake and as real as..well...reality. Because even if bug-headed womden and walking cactii aren't a part of our real life, politics, multiculturalism, drugs, alienation, corruption etc are.

The Scar was obtained from the library and finished in one, long sunday session (which was technically partly a monday session, since I finished at some obscene hour). I liked it more than Perdido. There's something about novels which include travel (especially travel by sea) that makes me want to fly up and look down upon them from some ridiculous height. Too many movies, perhaps.
Plus, The Scar had Uther Doul, one of the best characters I've read in ages. And a linguist/librarian/frigid bitch for heroine? Perfect. The Scar was just magnificent...everything about it was big and operatic. Giant creatures from other dimensions, giant cities made of ships, big manly men, all on the sea, which is just about the vastest canvas on Earth.

Which is why I was so eager to read Iron Council. It's also why I'm slightly disappointed with it.
There's nothing wrong with this book. New Crobuzon in a time of turmoil (but then, have we ever seen it in any other way?) is interesting, but the war with Tesh isn't really that exciting. It's a really good story, but somehow it isn't as engaging as the previous books. Perhaps it's a matter of expecting too much - I was blown away by the first two, this one I only enjoyed. It could be just me. Iron Council did win the Arthur C Clarke award, judged by minds far greater than my own.

But you know, just when I find myself forced to admit that this isn't his best:

Bastard, Cutter thought, tearing up, trying to speak. Bastard to say that to me. You know what you are to me. Bastard. He felt his chest hollow, felt as if he were falling inside, as if his very fucking innards were straining for Judah.
'Love you Judah,' he said. He looked away. 'Love you. Do what I can.' I love you so much, Judah. I'd die for you. He wept without sob or sound, furious at it, trying to wipe it away.

My literature student side is tugging frantically at my sleeve, telling me how this is cliché and repetitive and seeks to distance itself from what it really is with the use of swearing. My person-reading-book side is touched. It's simple, but for some reason I find it astonishingly beautiful.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


When I saw Pemberley by Emma Tennant in the library on Friday, I decided to pick it up out of curiosity. I mean, how bad could it be, right? Huge, huge, unforgivable mistake.
I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice, and after studying it last year I love it more. It’s light and funny and refined and ironic and just a delight to read. A sequel would be fun – just to see a possible alternative “what happens next”.

Well for a start, the timelines are all screwed up. Within a year of Lizzie and Darcy’s marriage, Mr. Bennett is dead, Jane has had one child and is well on the way to a second, and the Wickhams are multiplying like bunnies – four children so far. How, we do not know, especially since the end of P&P seemed to indicate years of Mr. Bennett visiting Pemberley.

Lizzie feels terrible at not having provided her husband with an heir in (gasp!) a whole year. Lady Catherine turns up with a cousin of Darcy’s who is the heir to the estate, should Lizzie fail to produce one. All the characters of the original book show up at Pemberley for Christmas, Lizzie and Darcy have marital troubles (Lizzie lies awake at night, waiting for him to come to her. Oh the tragedy! Does anyone happen to have a violin on them?). Lizzie abandons Darcy, suspecting him of having fathered a child with another woman.
In the final chapter (a whole four pages long) Tennant seems to have got bored, and wraps up the whole story. The illegitimate child is Bingley’s, Darcy is a good man, Jane nearly dies, Lizzie falls down stairs, Lizzie loses consciousness, Lizzie gains consciousness, Lizzie is pregnant, they all live happily ever after. Awful.
Tennant’s language is vaguely Austen-esque, but it’s hard to imagine Austen writing so much sex-stuff. And she doesn’t have Austen’s sense of humour. Read only if you’re the kind of sadomasochist who liked Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett.

Goblet of Fire

It seems...disjointed. Like they'd picked all the important scenes and just filmed them, with no kind of transition between them. But the individual scenes are done brilliantly.

I'm not much of a purist about Harry Potter, so I don't particularly mind the omissions. Dobby and Winky are annoying anyway, and while the Quidditch world cup is infinitely cool it's hard to see that it added much to the story. But it really is a pity so much of the Crouch background had to be cut.

The dark mark at the world cup - brilliant. This could easily have been mishandled and made comical, but it turned out as creepy as necessary. The maze, despite the loss of the fun creatures, was really well done. Snape was the background and not speaking. I think they're building him up for the massive role he plays in the later movies. The yule ball was decent, I liked the Wyrd Sisters, naturally. The graveyard scene, though, that was stunning. Fiennes is brilliant, the setting is chilling, and Cedric's death wasn't dwelt on unnecessarily.(Until they got back, and that scene was one of the most painful to watch.)

Casting has been surprisingly good. I continue to be stunned by the brilliance of Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman. Not really, no. From time to time his Dumbledore seems to slip into an american accent, which is quite baffling. (Speaking of accents, Cho's was so thick that the family next to me kept asking each other what she was saying.)I like Grint - not so much Radcliffe. Emma Watson is going to be stunning when she grows up. Certainly the prettiest girl in the movie - Fleur, Cho and Ginny are all tolerable but nothing special. Both Crouches are perfect. Cedric's a bit too much of a prettyboy, but Krum...Krum is big and military and muscley and thuggish and *drools* I like Krum.

There are no genuinely cringeworthy moments, quite a feat, really. I am suitably impressed. I'd rank it just slightly below Azkaban, which I loved. Good movie.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Screaming down from heaven

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I was sixteen, and I'd never met anyone like Craig. He knew more, had read more, was smarter and nicer and funnier and harsher than anyone. And Craig liked Jeff Buckley, who I'd never heard, he thought Buckley was brilliant and he had to be right because of the sheer Craigness of him. But I was sixteen, and I could be wrong, and I didn't want to be wrong and not like Jeff and have to tell Craig I didn't like him. So even when he tried to direct me to the official website to force me to listen to "Lover, you should've come over", I didn't.

Eventually I gave in, and found myself at the site listening to Mojo Pin. I was...bored. The beginning was long and dreary. And it was about love, and everyone's written a love song, right? (I'd blame this on the fact that I was sixteen too, but I know sixteen year olds who have great taste)

At some point I decided to read the lyrics instead. I'm not sure what it says about me that my greatest loves musically started with the lyrics. But I think I learnt that certain things got written about because they were universal, that the love song will always exist because everyone who discovers the feeling feels it so intensely that they just have to write about it. Jeff made it sound fresh and exciting and beautiful.
I found Grace in a shop I didn't expect to have it. I don't think I've been that excited over an album in years. I could probably rhapsodise over each individual song, but that would bore everyone. I will say, though, that Dream Brother is gorgeous, and must be sung by June at her college thingy.

I'll never forgive myself for not having discovered him before he died. How could I, though, I was far too young.

I'm a bit early, but happy birthday Jeff.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Thud! - Terry Pratchett

I'm trying not to be too fangirly here. I really want to squeal and say this is the greatest book ever. It probably isn't.

SPOILERS! Don't read.

So what's wrong with this book? Well. I don't like Sally. She's just not interesting. You could get away with her character if you stuck it in one of the Rincewind books or one of the standalone books that aren't about any established set of characters (Small Gods, Soul Music, Pyramids, etc) but the Watch books have some of the most brilliant, carefully developed characters in the series, you can't just shove Sally in with Angua and Cheery and Vimes and Carrot. Is she there solely to make Angua jealous? Or for the rather erotic shower scene and references to mud wrestling with Angua? (because lesbianism had to come in somewhere and Angua/Cheery just wouldn't be that hot. Though he already *dealt* with it in Monstrous Regiment)
Also, Vimes agrees to have a vampire in the Watch far too easily. At first I was able to overlook this - He knows his prejudice is illogical, and we know from Jingo how hard he tries to avoid prejudice and just be a good person. But I got the feeling this was one prejudice he was determined to cling to. He doesn't.

The vampire/werewolf thing? Even in The Fifth Elephant it's not that pronounced.

However. Baby Sam! 'Where's My Cow?'! This is quite possibly one of the most touching portrayals of fatherhood I've ever read. The scenes where he's trying to get home on time and the entire Watch helps him made me melt.And the Where's My ow shouty scene near the end.

Also, little touchs of character developement which simply do not exist in the earlier books. Colon's suggestion that a robbery was done by a troll is actually rather impressive (or I have descended to Colonesque levels of idiocy). Detritus' paternal feelings towards Brick. Detritus' maturity in handling the situation when Bunny cleans out the stables for the trolls.

Oh, and I loved Tawnee. It's rather comforting to think that the only reason one is asked out by pathetic men is that the others are too intimidated. Except, of course, that one is not a six ft tall stripper with a perfect body. *sigh*. The thought of Nobby getting some is...disturbing, but it's at least relatively safe from fanfic writers.

It's getting harder and better to read Discworld books, what with issues coming in. Things like Vimes' grudging acceptance of technology are comforting in their familiarity, but Dwarf fundamentalism, gang wars, racism, etc are disturbing for the same reason. I often pick up one of the earlier books in the series for *light* reading, as opposed to serious, makesyouthink literature. I can no longer do that. And I love it. I love that he hasn't let the lightness of the earlier books restrict the potential of the later ones. Thud! is funny and silly, but it's also deeply worrying, and I think that is a major achievement. It's hard for me to be objective about Pratchett, but I'd certainly rank Thud! among the best books of this year.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Neil Gaiman - Anansi Boys

If I lived under a rock and had never heard of Neil Gaiman, the caption “God is dead. Meet the kids.” would still have tempted me to pick up Anansi Boys. As a fan, it was never really in doubt.

Anansi in African/West Indian folklore is a bit f a prankster, occupying a role similar to that of Loki in the Norse tradition (or even Brer Rabbit). He’s associated with spiders and storytelling – the spider’s web has always been a metaphor for the well-crafted tale. Gaiman fans will have already encountered Anansi in American Gods, but as a relatively minor character. In Anansi Boys he plays a much greater role – surprising, since he’s dead throughout.

Anyway, Anansi Boys is the story of Anansi’s son Fat Charlie, who discovers at his father’s funeral that not only is he the son of a God, but he has a brother (Spider) who he never knew about. Spider pays Charlie a visit and successfully ruins his life to the point that Charlie turns to a group of eccentric voodoo practitioners to get rid of him. In the process, he makes a bargain he is really, really going to regret.
Oh, and the police are after him for embezzlement.

This book is considerably lighter than American Gods, more *grown up* than Stardust, and far better than Neverwhere; and probably a good introduction to Gaiman’s work for those who haven’t yet read him. His prose in the scenes at the Beginning of the World is gorgeous, though the imagery itself isn’t that original. However, some of his best scenes are the lightest ones – Charlie’s aeroplane related woes and his nightclub debut.

Gaiman seems to like giving dead women important roles. Here, luckily, she’s a rather attractive ghost, instead of the rapidly decaying corpse we saw in American Gods. This actually says a lot about the difference in the mood of the two books. I’m not sure which I like better. I certainly had more fun reading this one.

My copy of the book includes lots of fun stuff like an interview with Gaiman (though people who read his journal won’t learn anything new) and proof of how terrible his handwriting is. All very endearing, of course, the man is adorable. Look at the picture on the inside of the front cover (or on the back of the book if you’re rich and got the hard cover version), and you’ll probably end up buying it simply because you want to add to the man’s (probably considerable) fortune.

Monday, October 17, 2005

melancholia, mon cher

I looked at the director and thought of the countless directors and playwrights and actors and stage designers who had sat at mine and Christiane's kitchen table, had stood under our shower, had slept in our beds; I thought of their voices on our answering machine, their night-time banging on our door, the smashed glasses and unread letters; I thought that there was always something that wasn't quite enough, and this time, too, something wouldn't be enough; I thought of you, of the frost flowers, of the smell of smoke; I thought we're not enough either.

The stories in 'The Summerhouse, Later (A Book About the Moment Before Happiness)', by German author Judith Hermann & translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo, are about nothing being enough, are in fact about ennui. Very pomo, yes, but in a very good way. The time in which they are set is usually winter; this has partly to do with the place, Berlin, but winter carries over into the silence and space and sparsity of the prose style. I for one am a dedicated champion of purple (or at least purpley) prose, finding entire novels built on staccato sentences that often hammer significance too rudely in with devices such as repetition irritatingly mannered. But here the form is the short story - and I have to say that Judith Hermann, (not to be confused with the similarly named author of 'Trauma and Recovery'), with her clipped sentences and variations thereof, succeeds in making her content inextricable from her style. There are touches of humour, of the sort that make terrible sense and that you find yourself laughing hollowly at.

I keep returning, especially, to 'Bali Woman' and 'The Red Coral Bracelet'. The passage I quoted at the beginning is from the former. I keep returning to them because they are almost frightening in their evocation of disappointment and futility. The absences in this book are not those that have been left behind, but those that are, and out of which something is bound to come, something positive, but what? The book's subtitle suggests happiness, but here, too, is uncertainty. Whatever it is that happens before the moment of happiness is at once depressing and more real than the moment itself, which is illusive and found only in retrospect. All of Hermann's exquisite, cool details are necessary beyond the fact of their having to be so because of the very genre: they are the story on the surface, and the absences between the lines are the essence we gather from it.

To be overwhelmed by history, or to create one's own; the rage-red of an ancestor's coral bracelet, or the melancholy grey of a life being lived. Faced with these choices, Hermann's protagonist in the first story, 'The Red Coral Bracelet', eventually takes action, and her choice is the more difficult one. But that makes nothing easier.

Someday I think I'd like to read, as a matter of curiosity, a book about the moment after happiness. I don't know if it's already been written, or who has written it. In the meantime I'll be looking for Hermann's second book, which I hear is called 'Nothing But Ghosts'. Now that can't possibly be flufflit...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

kablooie for a cold

It’s mildly surprising to me even after twenty-one odd years of unexpected events that chemistry can be so dastardly. Take two perfectly nasty burny things like hydrogen and oxygen and what do you get? Water. I am reminded of this valuable life lesson upon having concocted a drink of hot water, lemon and honey to nurse a cold so evil that it even being called a violator of its own female relatives cannot encompass its villainy. On their own, lemon and honey are perfectly nice things. In a mix, they taste like the last breath.

Hyderabad was bombed last night. Most of us immigrants to the city are too poor or too lazy to own a TV, and none of the familiar newspapers are in print today thanks to yesterday’s public holiday. This added to the scare caused by yesterday’s Deccan Chronicle, (a paper that keeps delivering itself to my doorstep even though we’re paying for The Hindu, honest!) which carried a front-page article about possible bomb hazards to Americans in the city, which affected me and the flatmates in a rather direct fashion, since some of the Americans in the city happen to employ us.

One of the flatmates who arrived back from dinner a little late noticed that all the <i>haleem</i> shops were shut by ten p.m., something unheard of around our area. Hyderabad generally seems to go to bed early but Ramzan, until yesterday, has meant long and busy evenings for the Muslim restaurants we know. From where did this city learn to be so cautious?

current musix: handsome boy modeling school - rock and roll (could never hip-hop like this) part two. BEST SONG EVAR.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Totally sick Renaissance tragedians! England hath need of thee at this hour.

At least, Aishwarya and I think so.

(18:03:27) aishwarya: I'm thinking. The image of stagnation and rot in hamlet and the duchess of malfi..
aishwarya: are they an element common in revenge plays, or is this a coincidence?
(18:04:23) supriya: i dunno, dude
supriya: what image, exactly? is it a single metaphor or like part of the framework?
supriya: all i can remember about revenge tragedies is BLOOD
(18:04:52) aishwarya: they're there throughout.
(18:05:22) aishwarya: I mean, malfi the court is supposed to be stagnant and scary and scare me!
(18:05:29) supriya: yeah, i know. :D
(18:05:44) aishwarya: and "something is rotten in the state of denmark"
supriya: yeah. but that's how tragedy generally starts out, right? i mean, you take a bad situation for a good man (or woman) and then watch him wallow
(18:06:27) aishwarya: true, true
aishwarya: I haven't read hamlet in years
(18:06:35) aishwarya: I need to.
(18:06:39) supriya: i haven't read hamlet at all
supriya: i really should.
aishwarya: *nods*
(18:06:59) aishwarya: tis the best
supriya: macbeth: NO. I AM BEST.
aishwarya: =-O
(18:08:23) supriya: macbeth: … please? let me be best? or my wife'll make me kill hamlet. and i won't like that.
aishwarya: LOL
(18:09:07) supriya: othello: i'll kill him anyway. i'm JELUSZZZZZZ.
(18:09:34) supriya: king lear: yes, yes, alright. but does he love me best? more than aaaaany other daddy in the world?
(18:09:40) supriya: lear: *licks lips *
(18:10:05) aishwarya: elizabethan audience:wtf?
supriya: lear: come on. come to daddy.
(18:10:54) aishwarya: webster:oi! I'm the one that writes incest!
(18:11:27) supriya: will shakespeare: suck it up, johnny, i was doing this when you were eating rats in the green room of the rose.
supriya: will shakespeare: * goes back to reading tom stoppard to plagiarise for his next masterpiece*

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Going Postal

(The Thud! review will happen after I receive it from the boy. It will take a while.Growl.)
So while the entire Discworld fandom is talking about Thud!, I finally find Going Postal in paperback, and squee over that instead.

Firstly, I tend not to be as fond of the stand alone stories. I mean, with the Watch, the witches, (though not so much with the wizards) character has been built up over the books till the point where it has reached incredible levels of complexity. The stand alone books - Small Gods, Pyramids, The Truth, Monstrous Regiment, etc...they are all good books, but you never get *that* close.


The story here is almost a classic movie. Reformed criminal, outwardly frigid, chainsmoking heroine who turns out to be nice, rich and evil villain, honest men in corrupt system.

Moist is ...likeable. Not particularly complex, by Pratchett's standards, but a good character. Cute, too. I think I liked Adora better.Women with nicknames like "Killer"/"Spike" make me very happy.

Anyway - basic story. Moist van Lipwig has been sentenced to death,but is offered an alternative - a job in the Ankh Morpork Post Office. Except the post office is run down, old, full of undelivered mail, and staffed by two people, neither of them very sane. Plus the post office has to compete with the Clacks, and the man in control of the Clacks, Reacher Gilt, is EVIL.

Anyway. Stuff. I love books that talk about the power of words, especially the written word. So I loved the post office. It's interesting MR there were those scenes with the spirit of the Duchess.Here, it's the spirit of the letters. I don't recall him having done something like this before these books.

Also the Clacks fascinate me. I mean, the parallels they have, the idea of a method of increasing efficiency and making information available to 'the masses', and in MR you see how this actually helps swing Public Opinion. And here you have the other side of it - that letters are so much better than Clacks messages (or emails ...see, D? Mr. Pratchett understands...:-P)

Look, it's past 3 am. I'm allowed to write like this after 3 am, right?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Horrible Histories

History is one of the things I'm quite good at. (No, we will not bring up my board marks here. *frown*) I like subjects that deal with people and what they do and why they do it. Fascinating stuff.
I suck at remembering dates. What I am good at is remembering silly little anecdotes from history. And really random facts.

When I was about six or seven I discovered the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary. These books had ridiculous titles like The Rotten Romans, The Awesome Egyptians, The Vicious Vikings, etc. They were full of little cartoon versions of events, fake diary entries, even recipes. Pure joy.

I actually learnt a lot from those books. When we moved back here, though the only history the system seemed interested in teaching me was Indian, (I did Indian history three times over. The first two times were actually fun) I kept up with my world history through all the Horrible Histories books I could find. They affected me - a couple of months ago in an English history class (they have to teach us English history now, so we can contextualise our English lit.) I inserted limericks from The Terrible Tudors into friends' notes. Why not? We're old enough now that we don't need them as aids to memory, but isn't it fun when you're discussing the Tudors with someone (if you're the kind of person who discusses the Tudors with people of course) and you can suddenly stand up and say
Bloody Mary, they say, was quite mad.
And the nastiest habit she had
was for Protestant burning
seems she had a yearning
to kill even more than her dad.

...and get stared at? (People tend to edge away from me a lot)

Yesterday I was in the children's section of a bookshop and found The Groovy Greeks. When we studied the Greek Tragic playwrights, why did no one tell me Aeschylus died when he was hit by a falling turtle? (...and this leads me to a Pratchett post, which I promise will be my next one) I demand ridiculous bits of information like these!

I have a friend who is always buying good children's literature, saying that even if she's too old for it now, at least when she has children they'll grow up right. I don't intend to have kids - hell, I'm buying them for me.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Simoqin Prophecies

Studying English literature does not help me to read. Now, I love this subject. I really do. But sometimes I get really, really sick of reading. This tends to shock people who have known me for years; I’m the poster girl for You Can’t Get Sick Of Reading.
I can’t let myself stop reading altogether though, so when I’m in one of these moods I normally pick up a Discworld book.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to read The Simoqin Prophecies by Samit Basu instead. I’d been meaning to read this for ages, ever since reading the review in the Outlook (what was it – a couple of years ago?)
I don’t think I’ve had this much fun with a book in a long time. Basu plays with practically every known fantasy cliché, starting with “in a hole in the ground there lived…” (The Tolkien references are everywhere) all the way through to “Luke, I am your father.” It’s very similar to the earlier Discworld books (back in the days when they were just funny, before Discworld had started to belong to itself). In fact, there’s a lot of Pratchett in this; but then, it’s hard to tell whether someone is alluding to Pratchett or simply to the same things he alludes to. But Kol certainly felt rather Morporkian, and the Chief Civilian like Girl!Vetinari.
And…did I imagine the Sword of Truth influence because I’m pathetic and actually bought Wizard’s First Rule on sale a couple of years ago? Because Dahn Gem’s name certainly sounds familiar, as is with the “hero”.
While I had a lot of fun recognising references, I wouldn’t be being so complimentary about the book if that was all there was to it. When writing a spoof, there’s always a risk that more time is spent on being funny than on the characters and plot. That doesn’t happen here. Asvin is pleasantly annoying. Kirin is one of the most endearing anti-heroes I’ve encountered…and ends up doing the most heroic thing possible at the end of the story. Maya’s a little silly, but that’s really the point, isn’t it? The Silver Dagger disappointed me a little at the end…I would have liked someone who could be played by dishevelled Viggo Mortensen. But no, that’s my hormones talking. And the story ends on as complex a note as you could wish - I’m guessing (hoping, certainly) that the next book will feature quite a few political power games.
Basu’s fantasy allows the underdog his defence, which is rather unusual in classical fantasy. Tolkien would never have shown us the Eldar treating men like shit. And he seems fine with Gondor giving the Mark to Eorl, against the wishes of its old inhabitants. Here, the greatest sin the asurs seem to have committed is that of not being pretty, and there’s a recognition of this.

I’m not sure what I expect from the next book in the series. More politics, yes. The obvious, soap opera story should have Maya find out about Kirin and run disillusioned into Asvin’s arms. But me, I’m thinking power games, socialism, the weaker races fight back! Fun fun fun. Only a couple of months now, I can’t wait!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Two hairy midgets and a songwriter.

It probably says a lot about me that I remembered this morning that it was Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' birthday.
June later informed me that it was Nick Cave's birthday too. My mind is having a hard time associating Nick Cave with hobbits. All kinds of unwanted and infinitely creepy images are being formed. Eek.

It's hard for me to talk about Tolkien, in some ways. I discovered The Hobbit when I was six or seven, and Lord of the Rings at ten. The Silmarillion at fourteen. Joined TORC at fifteen. Am still a member. People I met there have entered my real life and become some of the most important things in it. I have all the qualifications of the Tolkien fan. I have debated on the relative merits and demerits of John Howe and Alan Moore as Tolkien artists. I have most of the History of Middle Earth books. I engaged in passionate purist vs revisionist arguments before the movies were released.
And ironically, it has been my Tolkien fandom which has led me to the people who first led me away from Tolkien. Sometime in late 2001 I moved away from Tolkien to other stuff. Beckett. Joyce. I must have been the most insuffereable kid alive at that point.
And then there was Gormenghast. This is not the right entry to talk about Peake, but Gormenghast stunned me - this was the book I wanted to have written. I never felt that way for LOTR. I almost resented LOTR for dragging fantasy in the direction it did.

Yet it's hard to escape Tolkien. I stopped the frequent rereading of the trilogy, but I still go back sometimes. I tire of his occasional old-boys-clubness and sometimes find him rather pompous. I'd rather be reading Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles, or The Hobbit than The Lord of the Rings...some of his loveliest prose is when he isn't taking himself too seriously. But I still go back.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sax myle and more it is of length

I have always had a complicated relationship with C.S Lewis. I think I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia when I was about six. It was at a cousin's house (my cousins were all male and playing with them was not much fun till I learned to love football) - he had The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and it looked great (I had just read The Hobbit and found out that fantasy was a marvellous thing)So I read it that afternoon in a couple of hours, sitting between the back of the sofa and the window. And then I found that my school library had them. The next few months were spent in reading and rereading them. I loved Narnia.

Somehow, the religious allusions in Narnia escaped me for years. I'm not sure what this says about me as a literature student, but maybe I was just a very trusting young child. When I found out, it didn't particularly bother me. The school I was in had a lot to do with my religion (the parents did not interfere) and while allegedly Christian it didn't really go into the nastier (to me) bits of the faith. Basically, there was this book with some fun stories, and there was this loving God, and that was it. I didn't really have to believe in Christianity, as long as I believed in God that was enough.
As I grew older and grew away from religion, I still admired his version of it. The Screwtape Letters was sheer delight ("She's the sort of woman who lives for others. You can tell the others by their hunted expressions").
Till We Have Faces (picked up secondhand in good condition but with drawings in purple crayon at random places) was awe inspiring. That was a version of religion I could respect, if not follow. How can we meet them face to face till we have faces? Till We Have Faces was Real religion, blood spilled in dark places.
The Cosmic Trilogy I read in the wrong order completely. I read Perelandra (the second book) when I was about ten, at a guesthouse in Panchgani the same week I read The Lord Of The Rings. I found That Hideous Strength (the third) in the school library. That book was issued more times that year than in the previous ten put together. Once by Shikha, who I forced to read it, but the rest of the time by me. Then I found Out of the Silent Planet (book one) at the BCL - in the children's section, which was closed to us adult type readers, (They also had McEwan's The Child in Time and Joyce's Portrait... there. Why? I don't know.) But I found the series in a three-in-one book with one of the roadside booksellers in Saket. And there was much rejoicing.
Out of the Silent Planet is a comparitively light book to read, worth it for the gorgeous descriptions, the imagination, and the Sorns (also seen in Alan Moore's LX2). Perelandra has loads of vaguely Christian discussion relating to the Fall. It's good for the arguments. That Hideous Strength is a masterpiece. The theology is not so hityouoverthehead as Perelandra's, and it's a subtler, scarier novel with a resurrected Merlin bought in for good measure.
For a couple of years now, I've been angry with Lewis. For what he says about Eve in Paradise Lost. For what he does to Susan. For all kinds of things, based on a larger issue which was that an author I had allowed to affect me so deeply honestly believed that I was going to hell. And I felt betrayed, because he'd gone and created something for me to love, and had then made not-applicable to me because I wasn't a good little Christian child. I even felt offended from a racial point of view - the God that the brown skinned Narnians believed in was sadly deceiving them, while the white Narnians were completely enlightened. There's even a bit in OOTSP where he makes a positive reference to the White Man's Burden.
The problem is, though, I cannot stop loving the man. I feel a kind of exasperated tolerance for the more ridiculous of his views, but he's still one of the greatest writers I know of. I remember lines from his work now, books I haven't read for years. He and Tolkien are like two old fashioned father types, for me. (In the immortal words of June - you love him even though he thinks fags go to hell, women belong in kitchen and george bush is a fantastic dude. or any indian equivalent of that. that was an example, i doubt tolkien would like dubya.)
So no, I don't like his religious beliefs. Or the fact that he felt he had to beat my six year old self over the head with them. Why do I respect him? Because we had a lovely theological argument in class today about the Fall, and I came home and too out Perelandra because a teacher had asked to borrow it. And I sat all afternoon and finished Out of the Silent Planet and am halfway through Perelandra and they're gorgeous.

Read Neil Gaiman on Lewis here

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Elizabeth Kostova - The Historian

Everyone’s writing historical thrillers, it seems. This is the only one I’ve read which actually contains elements of the supernatural though.
Forgive me for not comparing this to the Da Vinci Code, which I haven’t read.

I have rather a weak stomach when it comes to horror or the supernatural. As a result I stayed up till 3 reading the book, with my back to the wall, and casting nervous glances at my window. A fact: Vlad himself is not nearly as frightening as that librarian.

Anyway. The story. A sixteen-year-old girl finds a mysterious book and a bundle of letters in her father’s library. When confronted, he begins to tell her the story of how he and her mother tried to discover the tomb of Dracula. Much of the narrative unfolds through letters – her father’s friend and advisor wrote the details of his search in letter form in the 1930s, and the father himself completes his narrative in letters when he has to hurry away.
It’s really rather good. Character is allowed to develop, despite the fact that most of the characters in question are known to us only through other people’s letters. Kustova has picked on one of my favourite periods in history (the “fall” of Constantinople) and she writes it well. She doesn’t talk down to the reader and assume s/he is ignorant, nor does she act as if she expects them to know everything, and throw too much information at them (a la Foucault’s Pendulum). Paul and Helen are both extremely intelligent (Helen’s a genius, apparently) but they don’t know everything, and we see them learning with us.

The book moves at a lovely, leisurely pace, with some gorgeous descriptive passages. Jabberwock's right to hope for a travel book from her. Her descriptions of Eastern Europe (a place I’ve never seen but would love to) and Istanbul (my spiritual home) are extremely beautiful.

But the ending. *sigh* No, it wasn’t awful, but it was rather a disappointment. The confrontation with Dracula is a little cheesy, and there’s far too much Happily-ever-after-ing. The long dead mother isn’t really dead; ‘Master James’ gets his revenge, and Vlad’s a little heap of dust. And then the forced “…but now he’s back” feel right at the end, like a generic horror movie preparing itself for a sequel. Not enough to spoil the book, but enough to make it less than perfect.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Of Clock-filled crocodiles and the reccos of fleas

With this week being as hectic as it has been, I’m amazed I had time to read anything that wasn’t college related. But I did, I read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.
I liked it. Not too heavy, funny, touching, etc. Most of my reading is centred in Europe (yes, I’m very ashamed of this) so it feels refreshing to be reading something from somewhere else. Even if the author is English.

There’s the thing though. If I was reading this as an authentic account of life in Botswana, I’d probably be better off with a book by an author who was actually from the country. Luckily, all I’m really in it for is entertainment. And it’s charming.

“Charming”. It has always annoyed me the way books about Asian, African and South American countries are written in this charming, simple, childish style, somewhat akin to magical realism when you read it. (Though magical realism is not particularly simple or ‘childish’.) Try using that style on a book about the streets of London. (Hmm. That would make a pretty good book) Maybe I’m hyper sensitive, but it always seems patronising to me. With this book, though, I didn’t feel that. It was like he knew it was irritating, and was purposely mocking the style. Was he? I’m not smart enough to know.

But yes. It was a great read. I will read the other books in the series. And a big thankyou to Jai for the rec. (And no, the mention of Fleas in the title does not refer to him, but a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who also liked this book)

Friday, July 15, 2005

The new Potter - *squeal!* - and spoilers.

I have only ever owned one of the HP books (A hardback copy of The Goblet of Fire that was rather mistreated) and had decided not to buy any till the whole series was out and I could get a boxed set or something. Then on tuesday I was outside the Corner Bookstore at Eatopia and saw the "Book now, get 20% off" poster. I'm weak.
So I'm on my way to collect my copy of the book - Supriya and I will be doing a sort of interactive review in this post. Feel free to jump in.:)


Two powercuts later, I'm here to interact. And say what? Should this review have spoilers? Does it even matter when, after having read the book, the two things that preyed on everyone's mind these last two weeks - who the half-blood prince is, and who dies - are actually not the two biggest surprises or, indeed, the two most important things about the book?

To keep things general in a cursory verdict, before the details: Harry Potter has expanded. The first few chapters are marvellous proof of the fact. It's not that plot and characterisation develop wholly new aspects so much as what we could sense as subtext, the stories that JKR refrained from telling to complete the picture, are being filled in now. Consequently, growth.

-- Supriya.


It's been two days since I read the book, and I've calmed down.


Perhaps not.

First - I'm having these glorious images of a Tony Blair cameo in the movie version of this book.

Second - Spinners End = Best Chapter Ever. The fox! (Tolkien?) "Cissy"! Snape and Wormtail living together! SnapeSnapeSnapeSnapeSnape!

Anyway. What I liked about this is the amount of background information that has finally been given us. Voldemort's story is the major thing, but there's also little things, like Dumbledore's explanation of how underage magic is controlled in wizarding families (this has been worrying me since book 2).
What bothers me a little is how completely new concepts and characters are introduced - Scrimgeour, horcruxes, etc...when something plays a significant role in a Rowling book (Minister of Magic and the only means of defeating Voldemort - that's about as significant as it gets) they've always been introduced in a relatively innocent role a couple of books earlier.
Anyway, let the predictions for the next book (and squeeing over this one) begin!


I think I'm calm too, except when I think of Snape and Dumbledore and have a little readgasm all over again.

My biggest grouse with this book is how well-adjusted everyone suddenly seems to be after the befuddled, massive, emotional train-wreck of OotP. This is, of course, because Harry’s talked himself into growing up over the holidays. He communicates better, obeys orders and, as if to make up for his pig-headedness throughout book 5, actually reports everything important - and many things not - to Ron, Hermione and/or a teacher. At some point I was almost about to pine for the fucked-up brat that I’d learnt to live with.


Because, dude. New and improved Harry? Throws old whiner Harry way out of the field. You might miss his emotional upheavals and how easily he can be hurt by the world, but it’s very likely you won’t. He’s still vulnerable, but he’s no longer insecure. This is a series that is no longer dithering and stalling and hemming and hawing; it’s going places, and fast. Naturally, it may trip up on those little details like factual consistency and, oh, polite punctuation. But surely one has learnt not to expect those.

Given that, it’s surprising how heavily JKR lays on the new locations and information and points of view in the first quarter of the book. Or not; this is no expansion of plot. It’s subtext becoming text. So you have explanations for the Ministry’s liaison with the Muggle world in the first chapter and then, you have. Slytherins. Lots and lots of yummy, sharp, two-faced, and – hold your breath – three-dimensional Slytherins. Yes, I mean Draco. Everyone expected it, everyone predicted it. And JKR did it, thankfully. Chapter Two was already being touted as The Best Chapter Ever in certain circles on the morning of the 16th, and in terms of how much it gave to the reader, I might be inclined to agree. There was Bella-Narcissa-Severus tenshun, ‘nuff said. Actually: There was Bella-Narcissa-Severus tenshun and also, JKR cannot infodump subtly, ‘nuff said.

More things I didn’t like: Wayyyy too much yayl0veomg! at the end, not so well-constructed. I don’t think writing romance is one of her strong points, and I can understand her choppiness; romance is not really so much of a priority when, you know, everyone’s fighting a war, no matter what Mrs Weasley says, and it’s a delicate balance between exploring relationships and creating 300 extra pages to an already big-ass book.

As for the 'ships themselves: I don’t mind Bill/Fleur and - here I lose all literary credibility but – I actually don’t mind Remus/Tonks, but to pile it on so heavily in the last chapter did not work for me. Ron/Hermione is so much subtext it’s all but text, and I actually think she’s handling that better than most, although it did drag a lot and there were times when the Ron/Lavender farce got a bit too unfunny for me. Harry/Ginny was good, courtesy bitchy!strong!Ginny, although it was rather abruptly sketched out – did JKR not want to spend too much time on it, or did she just assume that no one really needed to have it built up?

I also liked Ginny because she was one of the few women in this book not sniffling, whining, or losing sleep over boyfriends. Well, there’s always Minerva McGonagall. If you want.

I also suppose it was tough for her to bring in new magics and theories, but I wanted more. The horcrux aspect was simplistic, but then what about HP’s magic isn’t? And it clicked, which was good. The Inferi – zombies, basically – didn’t matter much.

And, to state the obvious: Tolkien would totally kick JKR’s ass in a Dead-Marshes-writing-contest.

Back to the characters: what goes for Harry goes for Dumbledore too. After being the grim puppeteer of OotP, Albus reprises his role as superhero, Christ-figure and the guy with all the best lines. It’s not so much of a surprise, since the earlier books have put him in the super-mentor humourdaddy position before, and he has a history of power. This, then, is good!Albus raised to the power of ten; flawed but ultimately self-aware, and a hero every step of the way. His last scenes in the book may not be the best fantasy ever written, but if anyone has cared a whit for anything over the course of these books, they will care for the implications of what he does, what he means, in them.

As for Snape, what can I say? If everything else in this book has been about fulfilling expectations, then Snape has indeed been about JKR exceeding them. Always one of her best-written characters, Snape is now the one who has escaped the confines of good and evil as the books know them. I can’t read him as a traitor, but if he was – it really wouldn’t matter. His killing of Dumbledore and last fight with Harry prove that he has been doing all along is what is necessary, and the final outcome of his calculations will only decide whether it has been necessary for him alone, or for the side he’s on. And yet, there’s little coldness to him. He’s still the touchy, grumpy, jealous, nasty fuck he’s always been. The series has done some growing up in this book, but Snape has become its George Eliot: one of the few things that actually exists for grown-ups.

Voldemort. Ah, Voldie. I missed seeing him in this book. Oh, he was around constantly as Tom Riddle, which I confess was one of the things that I most anticipated about HBP, and we did get to find out more about his wizarding family, which I was very satisfied with, on the whole. I’d have hoped for him not to be such a maniac/sociopath as a child, but I’m not complaining; madman he is and will remain. The Hitler parallels grow that much more obvious, I think. I really enjoyed his presence in the book, even if he wasn’t quite the subtle tortured villain I was hoping for. Thumbs-up for gapfilling.

Draco, as for Draco. Well, his story arc went the way it was expected to go, in a ridiculously overdone “we love the sound of our own exposition before we kill each other” Draco-Dumbledore scene, and. Well. Thank heavens there was no miraculous redemption. I like my snivelling Draco, tall and pale and burdened though he may have grown. (Incidentally, so much about this book was fanfic. There was Sirius’ will, lots of Slytherin machination, and there was tall and pale Draco who cries secretly. I’m like, hahahahahaha.)

As a general first half of the stuff to come in book seven, I’m rather chuffed. I miss the spontaneity and structural tightness of the early books – and CoS, to which this is a parallel, has always been my favourite – but then, so does everyone. We cope.

She may still be laying on her ‘all you need is love’ moral a bit thickly, but the grey area between good and evil is coming out into the open, and that has made all the difference. That is what makes Book Seven worth waiting for, and wait I, at least, will.

-- Supriya.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

the master - colm tóibín

" The Master" was last year's Booker favourite, and having finally read it, I know I'd have chosen it over the eventual winner, another book featuring Henry James (in a lesser capacity) myself. In a competition where each book seems to be chosen primarily for its display of style and writerly skill - and were that the only crtierion, Cloud Atlas would be really tough to beat - it stands to reason that, when each work is some form of tour de force in its own right, an overall measure comes into play, that takes into account things like, oh, how the book makes you feel, perhaps; or how far the writer's succeeded in accomplishing what he set out to do. In both cases, I'd grant my vote to "The Master." (I'm talking like these were the only three books in the running - does anyone even remember the names of the other two?) Both this book and "The Line of Beauty" are intensely psychological, self-absorbed books, but it is Tóibín who infuses his story with a rarer and more profound quality than Hollinghurst's authorial intelligence: authorial compassion.

In "The Master," Tóibín recreates some of James' own heavily elliptical, allusive style by constructing his story as a bunch of disconnected episodes set between 1895 and 1901. James' play has failed miserably in London, against his expectations, and, deeply mortified, he retreats further into himself. The next four years him will bring him more success; a slew of brilliant novels, a house of his own, and a headlong tumble into TS Eliot's deadly April cocktail of memory and desire.

As the novel walks us backwards and forwards through cities in which James has spent his life observing people, making friends, developing relationships but never seeing them through, it manages to create a subtle but accurate impact on the reader as the private life of the man who wrote Portrait of a Lady and The Wings of the Dove. Tóibín manages to create a psychological verisimilitude without ever focussing too sharply on the painful details of James' sexual crises (reviewer's note: yay!), his failure to save his friends from death and decay, and his social obligations. The moments of palpable dramatic tension (a young Henry sharing a bed with Oliver Wendell Holmes, his scattering of Constance Woolson's clothes in the ocean) are balanced by clear, calm reflective ones. You can only marvel at the lightness of touch it takes to create those, to make them sober and dark without being clumsy and heavy-handed. The Master is as much of a biography as Finding Neverland was a biopic; it's job is to pull threads from its subject's life together to fashion a plot out of mere story, and the gentle, meandering way in which connections are established and reinforced is both original and poignant.

If I was forced to pick a flaw in the tapestry, it'd be the sudden, inexplicable introduction of the subject of the occult (Henry's brother William and his wife were known for their interest in it) which isn't adequately resolved. But then, as James' work itself shows time and again, there's not much about the human condition that is.

Tóibín is no James, and I think he knows it: his language and basic tropes are all simple enough. James, after all, was not a character out of his own books, but a human being who wrote extraordinarily complex stories. In setting out to portray that man, Tóibín accomplishes an elegant, quiet novel that might just inspire a reader to read more of him - and more of James.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Moon Riders - Theresa Tomlinson

Been wanting to review this for a while. It's supposedly a book for *young adults*, in that the print is large-ish and there's no explicit sex. Other than that, I can't help thinking it was written for an audience far more mature than last year's movie Troy.
Is this historically accurate? I haven't a clue. It's fiction...whether it is based on reaonably reliable sources I cann't be sure; I'm not really an expert on this period of history. It is set in the years leading up to the Trojan War. The protagonist, Myrina, belongs to a nomadic tribe whose members are expert horse breeders and horse riders. At the age of fourteen she meets and befriends Cassandra of Troy when her father sells some horses to king Priam. Around the same time, she also joins the Moon Riders (the Amazons). Cassandra runs away with the Moon Riders, and so the Amazon women are dragged into the Trojan war.
Tomlinson doesn't give you much detail about the later stages of the war. Cassandra has a few uncomfortable dreams about a huge horse, but that's about it - she prefers to concentrate on the siege (the years that were left out of the movie so that Achilles could stay young and pretty) and assumes her readers will know what came next. That's rather a compliment when you're young - to know that an author actually credits you with being well informed. Though Tomlinson is English, and if I remember right we did the Greeks in third or fourth year.
Characterisation starts off rather simple - the story is told mostly from Myrina's perspective and a fourteen year old sees things differently from a twenty-something year old. As Myrina matures, so does the novel. Fourteen year old Myrina sees Paris as spoilt and annoying. Adult Myrina sees a weak, guilty man, very deeply in love.*
Achilles and his men kill most of Myrina's tribe, she wants to kills him, but he is still shown as an honourable man in battle. Helen is in love, but also retains her instincts of self-preservation, and is not portrayed as a bitch for doing so.
And she doesn't spare you the violence/sadness. People are dying all over the place.

I would have liked to read this about seven or eight years ago. Reading a book as an adult means you judge it by adult standards, which is a bit unfair. Though I think I prefer *childrens* books anyway. This made me cry, which proves it's certainly very effective.

*Again, compare this to Paris in Troy. Was the character written that one-dimensional deliberately, or was it the magic of Orlando Bloom?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Batman Begins

Nice try.
Yes, really. Nolan really did make an effort to go back to the *real* Batman of the comics. He watched Bladerunner a lot, apparently, and the effect is certainly visible. But it's just not good enough. Gotham is dark, but not quite chilling, Christian Bale's attractive, but not quite right, Batman's a little strange but not as mental (well yes, I love the man, but he's mental!) as he needs to be.
Katie Holmes is pretty, but she's just a non-entity...she isn't noticeable at all. Does this woman have a personality in real life? I'm curious.
And oh, look. It's Qui gon.

It's the year of the gritty SF movie...and this is a joke, but I will now imagine Jennifer Aniston with a bug head for the rest of the day.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Summertime Blues

Summertime Blues

Well, I went to my congressman
He sent me back a note
It said, "I''d like to help you, hon
But you're too young to vote"

I don't know about other people, but I always believed this song to be written by the Who, after I saw them perform this at Woodstock( the movie/ I'm not old enough to have been at this most wonderful of concerts in person).

Their electrifying, drug-fuelled performance, their equipment-smashing madness, a white-jumpsuit wearing Pete Townshend windmilling and leaping about the stage, Keith Moon's insane drum-rolls- everything was perfect in the movie, if not in real life:
It has, strangely, sometimes been described as their worst gig ever, involving Pete bashing his guitar on a man's head for interrupting their set. Luckily, I never got to see this happen which is why it seems near flawless to me, to this day.

And then I found out that this song, the song that I thought gave Woodstock more flavour than it is given credit for, the song that so perfectly described the repression felt by the youth of the time, the bleakness of work and the betrayal by their government at Vietnam that Woodstock through one long summer of peace and music was to cure, was written by Eddie Cochran and Jerry Caphart to be performed by Ed Cochran, in 1958, nearly a decade before I had believed it to be written.

Now, this in no way diminished my respect for the performance that made this song so famous. They transformed this song into something altogether wild and full of the madness that was the Who, which makes it very hard for me not to associate this song with them.

However, this did greatly increase my respect for Ed Cochran, who to someone born in the late 80s, seemed more an Elvis sound-alike than a good songwriter and performer. I could just as well have labelled the Byrds, the Monkees, the Beach Boys etc. nothing but lesser-quality facsimilies of the Beatles, which though partly correct appearance-wise, is not all that their music was. People borrowed music techniques all the time- heck, even the Beatles weren't always a hundred percent original. But the remarkability of the lyrics, their twisting even the slightest thing they borrowed to something no one else was capable of, is mostly why it isn't seen as a corruption and the borrowing generally considered too inconsequential to be of note.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Orhan Pamuk - My Name Is Red

Pamuk wants to write a historicised (should that be an historicised?) debate on the western vs eastern concepts of art. So he writes a murder mystery.
Comparisons with The Name of The Rose are inevitable, of course. Both are mysteries which frequently lapse/rise into philosophical debate. Both are historical novels. However, Eco’s book has the edge over Pamuk’s, simply because the mystery is a lot more interesting. William and Adso have an amusing Holmes and Watson feel to them. TNOTR has clues, suspects, and enough of a convoluted murder plot to draw the reader in. It’s like religion + Agatha Christie. Pamuk gives us three suspects (Olive, Butterfly and Stork), no clues, and not enough time spent on the suspects for us to care. It makes little difference to the reader to know which one’s the murderer. My reaction was something like “He did it? Oh, okay.”
Leaving aside the main plot, however,(and you can do that with this book, the murder plot is merely a means to an end) this is actually rather a lovely book. The debate on art is good – while debating the use of the western perspectivist technique, Pamuk adopts it, letting the characters tell their own stories in their own voices. People are telling their stories, not knowing what the others are saying/doing. Rather like the minaturists working on Enishte's book. Yet the argument for traditional art is made as well. I don’t want to be a tree; I want to be its meaning.
The subplots are far more absorbing than the murder. While Shekure and Black’s relationship is really rather boring, Shekure herself (and her relationship with her sons) is interesting. The puritanical preacher Nusret Hoja and his followers provide an important background story throughout, affecting the main plot in minor but significant ways. The storyteller in the coffeehouse is magnificent.
The ending though, the hint that the author is Shekure’s son Orhan and that he may have lied to make the story better, that didn’t work for me. It’s a little too cutesy, and it’s been done far too many times before.
This sounds harsh. It really is worth reading (and owning) and I did love it. No, really.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Incredibly spoilerful review of Star Wars Ep III

First of all - I didn't know we HAD that many fans in Delhi. They cheered and applauded at the opening credit thingy and the scrolling yellow wordy bit. They also, for some reason, cheered at Padme's pregnancy. Applauding her fertility, presumably.

So yes, I was surrounded by screaming fans, and most of the time that was a really good thing.

ROTS is far, far better than either of the prequels. The effects are stunning. The dialogue is slightly better than the last two (though Padme/anakin scenes are still rather cringeworthy). The acting is mostly better...Natalie Portman didn't impress me much, but Hayden got better. What really sets ROTS apart from TPM and AOTC is the fact that you actually care about the characters. Anakin's transition to the dark side was painful at times, as was Obi-wan's feeling of betrayal that Anakin had not carried out the prophecy. And some of the strongest scenes in the movie are done without the characters spewing 'dramatic' dialogue - Anakin and Padme sitting silently looking out of the window, Vader entering the Jedi temple with an army, the younglings scene, and the masking of Darth Vader. The betrayal of the Jedi, shown for each individual, is pretty heartbreaking. Padme gets the best line in the movie, as she watches Palpitane turn the republic into an empire.

Yes, the movie had its silly bits. General Grievous is just annoying, and walks like the smaller, brown dinosaur in Dinosaur Comics. Obi Wan on a giant lizard is really rather silly, but it doesn't jar. As usual, C3PO and R2D2 provide comic relief, R2 is especially brilliant (I'd never noticed before how much he sounds like a teletubby).

I think what I really appreciated about the film was that it wasn't all black and white. The original trilogy was, and that was good. But most of those who were children when they saw the originals are all grown up now, and presumably have learnt that it's not that simple. Some of the Jedi actions are dubious, and there is good in Vader. And the movie sets things up for his redemption brilliantly, I need to watch the original trilogy again. It'll have more depth now.

Best quote:
So, this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause..-Padme

Worst quote:
I'm weak! Don't kill me! - Palpitane/Darth Sidious.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I bring!

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I bought this at Dilli Haat because it's gorgeous and weird and snakeful.

I'm wondering though...I'm seeing a lot of Madhubani-ish stalls at Dilli Haat lately, and that's odd. And the college book and stationery shop has spiral bound notebooks with madhubani covers. I don't remember the last time art in its framed form was in fashion.
So is Madhubani the latest trend? Am I *gasp* cool?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

on kingdom of heaven

{hello, i'm the other friendly co-poster.}

A Jerusalem where everyone speaks the language of self-satisfied libertarianism is no Jerusalem. Where are the Jews, for one? Lost beneath the swirling two-dimensionality of Scott’s execution. The protagonist's utilitarian philosophy – save the people, leave the stones - fails to succeed, fails to broker more than a temporary peace and a feeble wonder in the minds of the audience.

Something is rotten in the kingdom of conscience. Wolfgang Petersen tried and failed to comment on the Iraq War with Troy, his utterly boybandish interpretation of the Iliad. Oliver Stone was certainly not smoking the right stuff when he drew his suicidally ludicrous parallel between Alexander and George Bush. Scott attempts to remedy this, it is true, and his message – that religion and history are not greater than human life – is a good and valuable thing in itself. But the sense of unease is pervasive. The ham-handed self-importance of it all clangs and clatters when, as the film itself states in an unbearably pompous epilogue, peace in the kingdom of heaven remains elusive a thousand years later. Kingdom isn’t even preaching to the choir; it’s rehashing the tunes and force-feeding it back to them.

Not in a wildly interesting fashion, even.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Beginning

I read. Quite a lot. I also occasionally watch movies. And go to exhibitions. And buy/crave art. I want to talk about these things. You will listen/read. Hah.