Review of ‘Lexicon’ by Max Barry

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Lexicon by Max Barry is a disappointing novel.

Max Barry builds on an interesting premise but fails to create a convincing dystopian landscape. The novel is about an organization of “poets”, master manipulators who use words to warp others to their will. The members of the organization are given the names of famous writers such as Bronte, Eliot; to conceal their true identities. According to the novel, a person’s personality can be classified into one of 228 psychographic categories, depending on which they could be compromised or controlled by using category-specific words. The conflict emerges when a deadly word is unleashed, a word whose power is fatal to humanity. The novel begins on a promising note but ends with the “love solves everything” cliché. And even the love that suddenly blossoms between Emily and Harry seems contrived. I wouldn’t call this a hardcore science fiction novel compared to novels like The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I wish that author had included more details about the organization, the psychographic segments, and the intricacies of what they learn and do.

Moving onto the characters, none of the characters are memorable:

Emily Ruff is not a likeable. Sure, she makes mistakes which is normal; but what I despise is her predatory behaviour, this coming from someone who was victimized herself is alarming.

Harry Wilson/Wil Parke is an interesting character, who initially appears to be baffled but later rises to the catastrophic event that was unfolding. His understanding of the organization and the “Poets” grows leaps and bounds once he gets into a conversation with Eliot. The sudden onset of this understanding is not believable.

Eliot, Emily Ruff’s mentor, is yet another cold and unfeeling poet who finally reveals his ability to emote. (SPOILER ALERT: His death beyond the obvious sacrificial role appears to be more pathetic than tragic.)

What is most intriguing about this novel is its examination of privacy issues which is an integral part of our life today. Max Barry made me think of the real intent of the numerous surveys and the polls one comes across on a daily basis and the dangers of revealing too much about oneself.

Lexicon’ is essentially a novel about the powers of persuasion and sadly nothing could persuade me to give it a favourable review.

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Review of ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus

 

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‘The Outsider’ written by Albert Camus and translated by Joseph Laredo, is a novel that centers around a Frenchman named Meursault, who expresses no sadness at his mother’s death. Days after his mother’s death he murders a man on a whim for which he is tried in court. Meursault is tried not just for his crime but his lack of emotions, which makes him an outsider.

Meursault, the protagonist is peculiar as he attaches no value to human relationships and commits murder for no apparent reason. Sentiments like love, empathy, and concern are insignificant to him. The only time Meursault is close to being emotional is when he is imprisoned and he realizes the value of his freedom. During the initial days of his sentence he tries to devise plans that will enable him to escape from being guillotined. But right before the day of his execution, he accepts death in all its finality. He lives his life following his mother’s ideal that humanity can get used to anything, be it death or punishment. His indifferent reaction to his mother’s death is startling to the people around him, the same sort of people who would prefer deceit to truth. Meursault is not a likeable character, but then I don’t think the author intended the character to be a likeable one. Mersaults’ s defiant manner of sticking to the truth, his staunch atheism, his unwillingness to sugar-coat realities and his ability to accept his wrongs and not feel guilty about them makes him an outsider. He is an outcast as he doesn’t adhere to social norms. But it is these qualities that make him an unconventional tragic hero. Anybody who lives or behaves in a way contrary to the age-old way is shunned. To the world he is a cold-hearted murderer and according to the author himself he is just a person who doesn’t belong. A strange man who lives his life just to feel alive and nothing more. He lives through his life saying and doing things that feel right to him alone and not to the society.

Marie, the mistress of Mersault, is the only female character that has any importance in the novel, she is reduced to a pretty thing people can point at and admire. She is a woman who doesn’t seem to have any opinions of her own. Like Mersault she too is strange as she desires to marry a man who doesn’t love her but only considers her as an object to gratify his sexual desires.

Almost all the characters in the novel are idiosyncratic starting from Meursault to Salamano. Camus gives us a strange piece of fiction along the lines of absurdism which is a philosophy based on the belief that human existence is purposeless and chaotic. To Camus Meursault was a new-age Christ, a person who sacrifices himself for the truth, the kind of truth people try not to see or acknowledge.

The Outsider is as Camus states “the story of a man who, without any heroic pretensions agrees, to die for the truth.” This book left me confused but it also made me seriously ponder about the rigid, inflexible, and most often prejudiced decisions of the common public, and whether these decisions are really fair. This novel progresses like a dream, hazy but fast-paced and finally leaving you with mixed feelings.

 

 

 

A Review on ‘The Colour Purple’ by Alice Walker

Epistolary novels are a welcome change from the novels that usually stick to first person or third person narrative. I feel that letters or diary entries are an excellent form to  explore what goes in the mind of a protagonist. When you are reading a letter you feel that the matter conveyed is for your eyes alone. It’s as if the writer trusts the reader completely and therefore pours out his/her thought without holding back.

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‘The Colour Purple’ is an epistolary novel written by Alice Walker. It comes under the genre of historical fiction. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

The protagonist of the novel is Celie, an African-American woman who is abused physically and emotionally by her step-father and later by her husband. The novel traces the transformation of Celie from a downtrodden, voiceless woman to a strong and independent woman. During the major part of the book I felt sympathetic towards her, and then later I appreciated her newfound assertiveness. Celie isn’t a perfect character; she has her share of weak and jealous moments and this makes her real.

The power of friendship between women and their resistance to the traditional roles make this novel stand apart. Celie’s friendship with Shug and Sofia strengthens her, her hope that she would be reunited with Nettie pushes her forward in life. Celie’s decision to accompany Shug to Tennesee marks the first time she does anything for her own happiness. At Tennessee, Celie rejoices in the freedom she has as she doesn’t have to constantly be at the beck and call of her heartless husband. She finally experiences bliss and discovers her talent in sewing. She establishes an apparel store named ‘Folkspants Unlimited’ that sells fashionable pants.

Shug is a beautiful blues singer who lives life on her terms. Her charisma sweeps Celie off her feet and has a lasting impression on her. Shug bows before nobody and puts her interests first. According to her, ‘God’ is an omnipresent spirit that wants everybody on earth to love and admire “its” artistry. She propels Celie to discover her voice and to admire all the beautiful things around her.

The men portrayed in the novel aren’t likeable, except for Samuel. Starting from Alphonso to Harpo, all of them appear to be the worst versions of themselves: Alphonso repeatedly rapes his step-daughter and gives her away to a man who has no love for her; Albert beats Celie and is indifferent to her, and Harpo tries to dominate his strong-willed wife, Sofia, by beating her.

But as the story comes to a close the reader can see stark changes in the personalities of almost all the characters. Albert understands and acknowledges Celie as a human being and even strikes a friendship with her. Harpo develops a good relationship with Sofia. A role reversal occurs as the women take on the duties of the man, and men of women.

Nettie, Celie’s sister has an eventful life. Her time in Africa throws light on the culture of her ancestors. The natives of Africa behave just like how the whites treat the blacks: they scorn at people who don’t fit into their narrow, conservative group. Disillusioned by the state of things there, Nettie returns to America with her husband and children.

‘The Colour Purple’ is a complex novel as all the characters undergo drastic changes. Walker gives the readers a peek into the lives of African-American women. The blacks faced an harrowing level of discrimination in the 1930s. For a black woman it was worse. The author directs our attention to many issues from patriarchy to racism. This book is appeals to the reader’s emotions from the first page to the very last. The significance of the title of the book can be understood from Shug’s words:

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

The colour purple is the result of a combination of shades of red and blue. It’s an unique colour that shouldn’t go unnoticed, similarly women shouldn’t be slighted.

The book ends on a cathartic note and in the process highlights that a woman can be her own master, all she has to do is take a stand.

Review on ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

INTRODUCTION

‘Ready Player One’ is the debut novel of Ernest Cline. The author wrote this novel as a tribute to all the writers, game designers, musicians, and filmmakers of the 1980s.

PLOT SUMMARY:

The story opens in the year 2044. Humans have nearly exhausted all their resources, the fuel crisis has sky-rocketed and people live in stacks, which are trailers piled on top of one another. People spend their time jacked into the OASIS, a virtual utopia created by James Halliday, a video game designer. This virtual world functions as a Massively multiplayer online role-playing game and as a virtual society. If you have an OASIS console, and a pair of haptic gloves, then you can log into OASIS and escape into a perfect virtual world. Since transportation has become expensive due to the fuel crisis, everything is done through OASIS: Kids go to school, adults work, old people listen to sermons, everything is done through OASIS. You don’t really go anywhere, it is only your avatar, or your virtual self that does all this.

James Halliday, the creator of OASIS, is a multi-billionaire obsessed with the 1980s pop culture. He promises the world that after his death, his fortune will go to the person who finds the easter egg he has painstakingly hidden somewhere in the OASIS. The entire world gears up to find this egg and among them is Wade Owen Watts, a teenager. Everybody knows that the key to finding the egg is Halliday’s obsession with the 1980s. The egg hunters call themselves the “gunters”. Years pass and nobody succeeds in finding the first clue to the puzzle. In the year 2045, 18-year-old Wade stumbles onto the copper key, creating history by making himself the first person who has a chance at winning Halliday’s fortune. He competes with his friends, and with the IOI, an evil internet service provider that aims to take over OASIS and monetize it. The agents of this organization will do anything to ensure that they get the egg, even kill.

REMARKS:

The book is an amazing read, being crazy about video games myself I know the excitement one feels when one is playing a video game or a computer game. You can be anything you like – a wizard, a warrior, or even a superhero. It is all up to you, your actions govern the outcome of the game. In a video game you have many lives and can always start over.

The book is divided into three sections called ‘levels’ following the theme of video games. Each level shows a development in the hunt for the egg. The novel is completely steeped in the pop culture of the 1980s. The author makes too many references to the video games, books, and movies of 1980s that it actually becomes annoying. Most of the references are lost as I can’t relate to what the author is implying.

An aspect the author addresses is how people become so immersed in a virtual world that they don’t know how to live in the real world, and in most cases do not have a ‘real ‘ life. The characters in this book barely interact in the real world. The idea which is evident right from the page is that you can’t run away from life forever, you have to face it .

Wade Owen Watts is a teenager who seeks solace in the virtual world like all the others. He lives in a trailer in Oklahoma City. He is a gunter who wishes to inherit Halliday’s fortune. He has more or less mastered every thing that comes under the pop culture of the 1980s. There is this instance where he remembers all the dialogues of some movies belonging to the 1980s, which is not very believable.

Wade is not an ideal hero as he too runs away from reality. He is heroic considering the extend he goes to achieve his dream, whether he succeeds or not you will get to know by the end of the book. Spending his life in OASIS doesn’t mean that he has no time for love. He meets Artemis, a fellow female gunter and falls in love with her. But there is a catch, since every single interaction you have with others is through the OASIS, nobody knows anyone else’s true identity. So it’s not surprising that almost everybody in this novel has trust issues. By falling in love with Artemis, who he believes to be a girl, he is even rigidly tying himself to the virtual world. Wade’s character overshadows all the other characters in the novel, as we get to know more about him than anyone else.

All the events that happen towards the end seem stretched, nevertheless it’s a great read.

Compared to the popular dystopian series like ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The Divergent series’, the world depicted in this book is not as as cutthroat as the worlds depicted in those novels.

I would recommend this novel to geeks, people who like science fiction and don’t mind countless references to the pop culture of the 1980s.

Review on ‘The Children Of Hurin’ by J.R.RTolkien

This novel is Tolkien’s darkest tale. Just like his other books, this novel is furnished with an elaborate map of the land to help the reader trace the protagonist’s path. The illustrations in the book by Alan Lee  enhances  the reading experience. There are even geneaology charts in the book  to help the reader have a good understanding of the relationships of the characters.
 
SUMMARY
The novel opens with a  brief history of the men of the House of Hador. Hurin, the grandson of Hador fights valiantly in the battle of Unnumbered tears and is captured by the servants of Morgoth, the dark Lord. The Dark Lord in his stronghold tries to persuade Hurin to divulge the whereabouts of the elves. Hurin openly defies Morgoth and becomes the victim of his curse–
“Upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair.”
Hurin is  immovably  placed on an elevated place and is forced to watch the doom that befalls his kin through Morgoth’s eyes.
Turin, Hurin’s son spends little time with his mother, Morwen, as he is sent  to live among the Elves safe from the darkness that was advancing from Morgoth ‘s fortress. The time he spends in Doriath is the only time he experiences bliss untainted by  misfortune  as Morgoth’s designs cannot penetrate Doriath. But before long, ill-fortune seeks him, as he engages in a duel with an Elf , humiliates him and inadvertently causes his death. Turin, weary of the Elven-halls fears that he might be punished for his supposedly rash act by the Elven king. He turns his back on Doriath for the last time and wanders aimlessly in the woods surrounding it. There he comes across a band of outlaws and joins them.  He soon takes the title as their leader and leads them to a hill where he and his followers takes refuge in the  ancient house of a petty-dwarf. Then when his companions are killed by the servants of the Dark Lord he escapes to Brethil. In Brethil, the people of Haleth are impressed by his prowess in handling the sword immediately accept him as their own. Turin slays Glaurung, the dragon sent by Morgoth to terrorize people who defy him. The  story comes to an end with Turin  taking  his own life when he  fathoms the magnitude of a  crime he has done to his own family.
REMARKS
Turin Turambar, the son of Hurin and Morwen, is both the harbinger of ill-fortune and its embodiment. Turin is described thus  when he reached his full manhood : ” tall,dark-haired and pale-skinned, with grey eyes, and his face more beautiful that any other among mortal men, in the Elder Days.” He is valiant and skilled in warfare.
Turin is constantly chased by darkness as he unwittingly leaves a trail of chaos and destruction wherever he goes. He is proud and commits rash deeds only to repent later. Aware of the curse upon him Turin struggles to take the right decisions, He renounces his name “Turin” and takes up “Turambar” hoping to lift the shadow that follows him. But every step he takes brings him closer to his doom.  Turin’s fate has been designed by the powerful Lord of Darkness , therefore escape is not an option.
In the major part of the book Nienor, Turin’s sister is absent; but her presence in the final few chapters intensifies the tragedy that ensues on Hurin’s children.
I have read Tolkien’s The Hobbit which is a classic in children’s literature. This novel is nothing like The hobbit except for the fact it is set in Middle-earth and involves magical creatures. In The Hobbit Tolkein says:
“Now things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome may make a good tale”
The children of Hurin is one of the most darkest tales I have read. It is a series of unfortunate events brought out by a powerful adversary. To the simple  question “How bad can life be in a magical world?
This book gives you the answer.
This tale can rightfully be called as an epic fantasy.
I would recommend this novel for fantasy lovers and those of you who would like to have a taste of a a good , solid tragedy.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: A review

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INTRODUCTION:
I’ve always wondered why Sylvia Plath killed herself in such a gruesome way. I took up her semi-autobiographical novel “The Bell Jar” hoping to get an insight on what really ran in her mind and why. I have to admit I still don’t understand why she became depressed.

What really inspired me to read more of her works were these lines:

“Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.”

I have never come across anybody who sees dying as an art and was amazed that something unpleasant and frightening as dying could be considered as an art. I was all the more dumbfounded to understand that Plath thought herself to be an expert in dying. Plath’s works all portray her unique way with words. The images and the ideas she projects through her poems have a bluntness that unsettles the reader.

The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel that was published by Sylvia Plath in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. This novel traces Plath’s descent into insanity. Esther’s experiences mirrors Plath’s own experiences.

SUMMARY:

Esther Greenwood, a brilliant girl from Massachusetts, having won a fashion magazine contest is selected for a summer internship programe with eleven other girls in a fashion magazine in New York for a month. Despite the envy of her friends and acquaintances she isn’t happy with her job, with the new clothes, or with the free tickets to ballets, fashion shows, and passes for hair styling at expensive salons. Esther stays in Amazon, an all-women hotel, along with the other girls who won the magazine contest. She befriends the beautiful and cynical Doreen who likes to live a wild, carefree life. The night before her departure to her hometown, she accompanies Doreen to a party and narrowly escapes being raped by her blind date.

She boards a train to Massachusetts wearing Doreen’s clothes and still retaining the streaks of blood on her cheeks which are the marks of physical assault of the night before. She doesn’t wash off the smudges of blood on her cheeks as they “seemed touching, and rather spectacular”.On reaching Massachusetts, her mother immediately informs her that she isn’t selected for the writing course she had applied for earlier. Dejected , she tries to think of ways to continue her literary career and finally decides to write a novel. But Esther puts aside her typewriter as she realizes that she has no notable experiences to write about.

As Esther attempts to complete her thesis on ‘Finnegans Wake’ she experiences her first symptom of depression: The letters seem to jump out of the page and grow barbs and horns and she is unable to read. This disturbs her, and she is unable to sleep or eat. Her Aunt Teresa asks her to meet Dr.Gordon, a psychiatrist. Under his care, Esther undergoes electroconvulsive therapy, but she is unable to ward off her suicidal tendencies. She tries to kill herself numerous times, but her courage deserts her when it comes to slitting her wrists, or drowning herself in the beach or even hanging herself. Finally after a trip to her father’s grave, Esther hides in the breezeway in the cellar of her house and gulps down more than fifty sleeping pills. Unfortunately for her, she is discovered three days later and is rushed to a hospital. Days later she is transferred to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. Soon after, she is taken to a private mental hospital by Philomena Guinea, her benefactress who had helped her with her college expenses. The rest of the story is about how Esther recovers from her depression under Dr.Nolan’s treatment, just in time to resume her college education.

REMARKS:

The novel begins with Esther describing the summer when everything slips out of her control. She says that it was the summer when the Rosenbergs were electrocuted. In the very first line the reader is made to imagine something brutal and unpleasant. In The second paragraph, she says that she keeps seeing the head of a cadaver wherever she goes– “I felt as though I were carrying that cadaver’s head around with me on a string, like some black, noseless balloon stinking of vinegar. The reader cannot but agree with the protagonist’s presumption that “something was wrong” with her that summer.

Esther initially admires Doreen, a beautiful girl from a society girl’s college who had also won the fashion contest. Doreen impresses Esther with her impeccable taste in fashion and her sarcastic remarks of everyone around them. One night Esther returns to her hotel room leaving a drunk Doreen in Lenny’s apartment ( a disc jockey they had met a few hours back) when she realizes that Doreen wants to spend her night there. Once Esther returns to her room she feels depressed. She says, “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence”. She fears the phone in her room in the hotel will never ring, and that she will always be alone.

Later that night when Doreen falls on her own puddle of puke in front of Esther’s room, the latter decides that she will bear with Doreen, but deep down she will have nothing to do with her. Esther seems to be clueless about whom she should consider as a friend but this doesn’t stop her from being constantly critical of everyone around her. Even though she is a cynic like Doreen, she lacks her friend’s confident manner. After a depressing and unproductive stay in New York, she returns home to the news that she is not selected for the writing course. Esther, who had expected a letter of acceptance is shocked and feels that her brilliant academic career has taken a turn for the worse. All the words of discouragement she had heard in her life comes back to her and sucks out her desire to live.

Esther’s mother struggles to find out the sudden change in her daughter’s behaviour. When Esther is hospitalized in the private hospital, she worries that she might have unknowingly driven her daughter crazy. Esther confesses to Dr. Nolan that she hates her mother. She looks down on her mother as she follows the conventional way of life and never dares to rebel.

Throughout the novel Esther recalls her time with Buddy Willard, her college-sweetheart; in the initial rosy days of their relationship she had been crazy about him, but later realizes that he is stupid and a hypocrite. She disagrees with Buddy when he says that poetry is “dust”. During her time with Buddy, she never openly expresses her opinions to Buddy, but merely nods at whatever he says. It is only after she comes to know of Buddy’s affair with a waitress, she speaks her mind. Esther is against the unwritten law that a woman should be pure for her husband for whom purity is optional. She says, “ I couldn’t stand the idea of a woman having to have a single pure life and a man being able to have a double life, one pure and one not”.

Plath uses the image of a bell jar to describe her mental state. She feels trapped within her own self and alienated from the outside world. The novel ends with the metaphor of the bell jar suspended in the air, freeing Esther from her mental prison, but Esther is not too optimistic of her future.

She says,
” To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.
How did I know that someday—at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere—the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?

I did not like Esther and I doubt that anyone would like a person who finds fault with everything. Even before her downward spiral, she doesn’t seem to be a likeable character. The Bell Jar is a very depressing novel. Plath’s unique choice of words and comparisons paint a very scary and gloomy picture of her life. It is depressing in a way that I feared that Esther’s depression would slip from the pages and creep into me. I felt empty and uncomfortable after reading the novel. I would recommend this novel only for people who are strong enough to go through a stage-by-stage nervous breakdown, without really being affected by it (psychological fiction readers I guess). This book oozes with pessimism. Nevertheless, this is a semi-autobiography, so , I can’t help but be impressed by the brutally honest account of a part of Plath’s life.

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee: A Review

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To Kill a Mockingbird, set in the 1930s in the sleepy little town of Maycomb in South Alabama, is not the story of The Finches alone but of everybody in Maycomb.

In the sleepy town of Maycomb, nothing exciting ever seemed to happen. Seasons rolled by, and people trudged along at a slow pace. The summer when Dill, the nephew of Miss. Rachel Haverford arrived, things were in for a change and Maycomb was to spend many sleepless nights. That summer, Atticus Finch, a lawyer is appointed to defend a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. His children-Scout and Jem witness the changes that happen to them because of the case and finally get to see their town, Maycomb, for what it really is- a town steeped in hypocrisy and prejudices. As Atticus fears, his appeal that Tom Robinson ( the black man) is innocent is not acknowledged. Soon after, Robinson is shot dead when he tries to escape from prison. Thereafter, life takes a different turn for the Finches.

Scout and Jem are two dear children preoccupied with their childish games and fancies.They are kids and they do get involved in the usual scrapes children get into. For them routine contentment is improving their tree­ house that rests ” between giant twin chinaberry trees in their back yard, fussing, running through their list of dramas based on the works of Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs”. When Dill arrives, they hatch a plan to make Boo Radley come out. Boo is a “malevolent phantom” who has lived for many years in the Radley place.

Years back, Boo Radley and his gang had resisted arrest for disorderly conduct for which the beadle locked them up in the courthouse. After Boo was released , he disappeared into his house. It was only after 15 years later that people in Maycomb heard of Boo again.

Quoting from the book:
“Boo was sitting in the livingroom cutting some items from The Maycomb Tribune to paste in his scrapbook. His father entered the room. As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities. “

The Radleys didn’t want Boo to go to an asylum and he stayed for sometime in the courthouse basement. Afterwards, Boo was forced to move back home as people feared he might die of mold from the dampness in the basement. There, Boo stayed for years, never stepping out and never letting a stranger in.

Trying to lure Boo out of the Radley place becomes an obsession for the children. But to their dismay Boo remains hidden throughout all their efforts.

What struck me about this book was the frankness of both Scout and Jem. Scout is six years old , a tomboy and the youngest child of Atticus Finch. Scout in her childish innocence questions her father whatever she wants to know. She doesn’t beat around the bush, but speaks her mind. Scout proves her audacity when she tells her Uncle Jack, ” You’re real nice, Uncle Jack, an’I reckon I love you even after what you did, but you don’t understand children much.”

She gets into many fights with her school-mates when they mock her father by calling him ‘nigger-lover’. She hates wearing frilly frocks and has no idea of acting like a lady. As the novel closes, Scout weighed down by all that has happened, feels old. She finally understands what her father meant when he said, “you will never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around.”

Jem, who is 4 years older than Scout, is a typical elder brother: always calling the shots. He annoys his sister for acting like a girl but at the same time is protective of her. Both the children are disappointed when their father doesn’t participate in all the activities the fathers of their schoolmates do. The children believe that Atticus has no laudable qualities other than being a good lawyer. Later, they are amazed when Atticus kills a rabid dog with one shot of a gun.

After that incident, Jem says, “Atticus is real old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything-! wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing.”

He realizes that his father was never proud of being a “dead shot” and understands why his father doesn’t exhibit his skill- it gave him an unfair advantage over other living creatures.
Jem is aghast and heart-broken when the jury doesn’t accept Atticus’s appeal. He is enraged with the injustice done to Robinson. The Robinson case and the general attitude of the people in Maycomb affects Jem badly than Scout (who is still too young to fully grasp the gravity of the situation). When Scout again on her hunt for an answer asks him about Miss Gates, her teacher, who hates Hitler and his Nazi government but doesn’t mind all the injustice the Blacks suffer. At this, Jem is furious and asks Scout to leave his room. As the novel proceeds Jem undergoes a transformation. Just like any teenager, he has mood swings and you realize that Jem has grown up, he is no longer an innocent young boy. He becomes reserved and avoids talking about the Robinson case. After the Robinson trial, his vision of Maycomb being a town of the “best folks” is shattered.

Atticus Finch, a 50 year old lawyer, who tries to defend a black man charged guilty of raping a white woman. Finch single-handedly tries to save the black man from the prejudiced public. He is short-sighted and feels that he is too old to play football with his children. Atticus is the best father character I have ever come across in a book. Being a widower, he is unsure whether he can ever make up for the loss of his wife to his children. Always skeptical of his efficiency as a parent, he makes no effort to cover up the harsh happenings in the town. He tries to explain even the unpleasant facts of life to his children as he knows that he can’t protect them from all the evils of the world. Atticus Finch stands out as a great father because of his bluntness and his faith in justice. He is a man who “doesn’t take pride in his talents”. The novel closes on an ironic note where Finch is compelled to take a decision contrary to his ideals.

Calpurnia, the maid, may not be seen as an important character; but her presence in the novel cannot be ignored. She is the only female character who comes close to a mother for the children. When Scout mocks at Walter for drowning his dinner in syrup, Calpurnia chides her for embarrassing a guest. In the major part of the novel, Calpurnia is seen as a tyrant by Scout, but later on understands that she was only trying to guide her. Atticus values Calpurnia’s role in his children ‘s life . He openly disagrees with his sister, Alexandra, when she hints at firing her.

Atticus says “Alexandra, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all these years. She’s a faithful member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are. Besides, sister, I don’t want you working your head off for us-you’ve no reason to do that. We still need Cal as much as we ever did.”

The readers are dubious of the existence of Boo Radley from page one of the book. It is not until the final pages the reader becomes aware of what Boo really stands for.

The author has woven her tale beautifully by striking a balance between all the themes she addresses- racism, social inequality, and loss of innocence. This novel is a classic. There is no other bottomline.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Summary:

 The year is 1962 and the place is Jackson, Mississippi. A time when racism was like a wildfire burning raging and consuming everything.  A time when coloured women cleaned, cooked, and looked after babies in white households; but were not trusted with the silverware.

 A time when friendship  between blacks and whites was unthinkable, Three women:  Aibileen, Minny, and white Miss Skeeter , came together for a clandestine project that changed  not only their lives; but the lives of everyone around them.

 Remarks:

 Drinking iced tea for the first time on a scorching hot day. This is how I would describe the effect of the book on me: New, cooling, and refreshing.

 The book touches your heart. You feel Aibileen’s love, Minny’s desperation, and Skeeter’s frustration.

 AIBILEEN

 Aibileen Clark is a 53 year-old coloured maid who works in Miss Leefolt’s house.  She is also the nanny to Mae Mobley(Miss Leefolt’s one year old  daughter).

 Her bond with Mae Mobley is painfully adorable. Mae Mobley dotes on Aibileen as she is always with her listening and talking, when her own mother sits in front of the sewing machine stitching fashionable dresses that she cant afford to buy from Maison and  Blanche. Mrs. Leefolt constantly ignores her child, and doesn’t spare any time for her even if she is crying her heart out.

Aibileen says:


“Miss Leefolt, she dress up nice everyday. Always got her makeup on, got a car port, double-door frigidaire with the built in icebox. You see her in the Jitney 14 grocery , you never think she go and leave her baby crying in her crib”

 Whenever Miss Leefolt scolds her child  for kicking up a fuss, Aibileen tells Mae Mobley :

 You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

 She does not want her “Baby Girl” to think  “that colored folks ain’t as good as whites”. So she tells her stories, one of her stories goes:

 Once upon a time they was two girls,” I say(Aibileen). “one girl had black skin, one girl had white.”

 Mae Mobley look up at me. She listening.

“Little colored girl say to little white girl, ‘How come your skin be so pale?’ White girl say, ‘I don’t know. How come your skin be so black? What you think that mean?’

“But neither one a them little girls knew. So little white girl say, ‘Well, let’s see. You got hair, I got hair.'”I gives Mae Mobley a little tousle on her head.
“Little colored girl say ‘I got a nose, you got a nose.'”I gives her little snout a tweak. She got to reach up and do the same to me.

“Little white girl say, ‘I got toes, you got toes.’ And I do the little thing with her toes, but she can’t get to mine cause I got my white work shoes on.
“‘So we’s the same. Just a different color’, say that little colored girl. The little white girl she agreed and they was friends. The End.”

Baby Girl just look at me. Law, that was a sorry story if I ever heard one. Wasn’t even no plot to it. But Mae Mobley, she smile and say, “Tell it again.”

 I really like Aibileen’s character, the parts with her and Mae are really touching. She is oldest in the  secret group consisting of herself, Minny and Skeeter. Therefore, she is mature and wise.

 MINNY

  Minny Jackson is another coloured maid. She is best friends with Aibileen.  She  is great at cooking and at getting herself fired. She has a record of getting herself fired 19 times. She is a typical  middle-aged woman worried about feeding her family and about maintaining a job.

 She is generally brash and outspoken but when her drunkard husband, Leroy, beats her she is submissive. She might shout out everything that comes to her mind, but she really cares for the people around her.

 Minny’s thoughts:

 “They think big strong Minny, she sure can stand up for herself. But they don’t know what a pathetic mess I turn into when Leroy’s beating on me. I’m afraid to hit him back. I’m afraid he’ll leave me if I do. I know it makes no sense and I get so mad at myself for being so weak! How can I love a man who beats me raw? Why do I love a fool drinker? One time I asked him, Why? Why are you hitting me?” He leaned down and looked me right in the face.

If I didn’t hit you,  Minny, who knows what you become. ” 

 She endures her husband’s post-drinking clobbering as she does not want him to leave her and her five kids. One can’t help accepting Minny’s  ambivalent nature as it is tangible. She detests white people, but later begins to care for her  new boss-The ignorant, foolish Miss Celia. Minny is a very entertaining character, loud and real.

  SKEETER

 Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a twenty-three year old from an upper middle class white family. She dreams of being a journalist and settling down alone in an apartment in New York. (For Skeeter New York is the city of writers). She returns home from college eager to meet Constantine, her maid, only to find another maid in the house.

 She is the young, spirited girl waiting for a change.  She wants to do something meaningful with her life, and she is least disturbed by the fact that her best friends are married. A wedding ring is the only way to happiness according to Skeeter’s mother.

 Skeeter’s relation with Constantine is exceptional. It is something beyond a formal relation between a coloured maid and the white daughter of her boss, more like a mother-daughter relation. It is this which propels Skeeter to initiate a project that shakes up all the households in Jackson. The affair she has with Stuart does not end up on a “happily ever after” note. Thankfully, it does not come under the “love is the solution for everything” category which is rampant nowadays.

 Skeeter says  “But I do not know what to tell myself. Stuart needs “space” and “time,” as if this were physics and not a human relationship.” 

 Skeeter is absolutely dedicated to see a change that she sacrifices her comfortable, anxiety-free life for a nightmarish one. I really admire her courage and sincerity.

 The reader gets the feeling that the characters are not fictional, but real characters with flesh and blood. The dialogues, and the sequence of events are extremely realistic that you feel as if a friend is narrating everything to you.

The story ends with the three protagonists starting a new life just when they thought that starting afresh was not possible. The book has everything-humour, fact, surprise,sadness, indifference, happiness, hope and change.

 The essence of the book is this:

We (Blacks and Whites) are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.” 

 This is a spectacular book that makes you think, laugh, cry, and sigh. it is life with a cover and a blurb.

 

The summer before the dark: A review

The ”Summer Before The Dark” is a novel about a  series of events that unfold one summer. The protagonist is a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Kate Brown. She is the ideal homemaker-responsible, sensible and patient. Beneath her calm demeanour, there simmers a disturbed mind that craves for attention. She is dissatisfied with her life being tossed around by her children and  her husband. She thirsts for freedom from her  wifely obligations.

The decision she takes one summer pulls her along a completely unexpected mental and physical journey. That summer her husband and her daughter go to America, and her two boys go on pleasure trips of their own. The Brown family  rents their house. As a favour to  her husband’s friend she joins Global Food, an organization that deals with tackling food-related problems globally, as a translator. There she is a rising star, the perfect advisor to her colleagues. At Global Food she is thanked and sought after unlike  how she is treated in her house. She enjoys her new job,and the flamboyant yet organized atmosphere of her workplace. She becomes so good at her job that she is promoted and her tenure in the organization is extended.

After a period of time she leaves Global Food and plunges into an affair with a younger man named Jeffrey. They visit Spain. There Jeffrey falls ill, and  Kate stays by him more out of maternal affection than out of anything else. In her lover’s company, she unknowingly reminisces about her married life and realizes that she has turned a blind eye on all her wishes. Soon  she falls ill,and the only choice she has is to return to London. There she stays in a hotel  feeling feverish and delirious. She is bedridden for days. The bitterness she  has towards her family and the illness addles her mind, and she is on the verge of losing her sanity.This is reflected by her behaviour at a theatre: she loudly comments and scoffs at the performance of the actors and becomes a nuisance  both to the audience and the actors.  The money she  received as payment for her job at Global Food starts disappearing and she finds that she has to search for a less expensive place  to stay.

Kate comes across a small house owned by an eighteen year old girl named Maureen. Th girl is a complete opposite to Kate: wild, independent, and reckless. Kate occupies a room in the house as a lessee. She and Maureen quickly develop a friendship. Kate talks freely about her husband and her children. Even though she is far away from home she takes the role of Maureen’s mother, and advises her on various things. One night when a party is going on in the house she realizes that she can’t stay with Maureen forever and quietly slips out of the house.

Kate  might seem like an ordinary  middle-aged woman, but some thoughts that find their way to her head makes her different at the same time. A break from her routine life made her realize the dull, pointless life she was leading. Kate is not a pleasant character despite the fact that she is the victim here. Her life is not fictional, she represents the lives of many women neglected and ignored by their family. For her, looking good is imperative; her flaming red hair and her pale face is her pride. When she falls ill, she becomes a gaunt, frail woman with a mass of frizzy hair, people barely glance at her, it was though she were invisible. The fact that people were not turning their heads to look at her grieves her.The reader  feels Kate’s insecurity when she is robbed of her looks.

Resentment she has towards her family, the change  into an ugly duckling, the illness, and the  unexpected break in her monotonous life all drives her to the point where sanity and insanity cannot be distinguished.  The time she has with Maureen lets her retrace her steps back into sanity. It is kind of ironical that Kate wishes to got back to  her family, the same family who stifled her and took her for granted.  Maybe Kate is a person who cannot imagine a life without them however disregarding they are to her.

Book Review of The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R.Tolkein

Cover to the 1937 first edition, from a drawin...

Cover to the 1937 first edition, from a drawing by Tolkien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary:

The hobbit is my first Tolkein book. This book comes under Children’s literature but it appeals to all ages alike. It is a delectable piece of fantasy. It is the tale of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit who loves to have more than two breakfasts in the mornings and hear his kettle sing, whose simple life becomes topsy-turvy with Gandalf’s visit. Gandalf, the wizard, appears at his doorstep with thirteen dwarves who seek for one more member to complete their gang to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug, the Magnificent, a large and dangerous dragon. Initially reluctant Bilbo, plunges into the scheme to prove that he isn’t just “a little fellow bobbing and puffing on the mat.”

The company embarks on a journey to the lonely Mountain to recapture the dwarves’ lost treasure from Smaug. Bilbo is promised a share of the treasure if they succeed in regaining it. Encounters with man-eating trolls, cave-dwelling goblins, elves and giant spiders, conversations with Smaug the dragon, witnessing a bloody battle are the adventures which befall him testing Bilbo’s endurance and fidelity. There are also lighter moments: good fellowship, welcome meals, laughter and song.

Remarks:

The book describes Hobbits as “little people, about half our height, smaller than bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.”

Tolkein here laces his prose with humour that makes both children and adults smile.

In the beginning Bilbo is just baggage for the dwarves,(In this book he uses dwarves as the plural form of dwarf) but later he proves his sagacity. He rescues the dwarves from giant spiders and from imprisonment in the elves’ dungeons with the help of luck and a ring which confers its wearer invisibility. The dwarves’ regard for him rises as he appears as saviour not once, but many times. He is the luckwearer and the ringwinner.

Later he even goes to the extent of taking decisions on his own. Even though Bilbo becomes more fiercer and bolder as the adventure ensues, tenderness does not leave his heart, and he does not hold back tears when he is grief-stricken.

The story is told by an omniscient narrator maintaining the style throughout the novel, and never forgetting that the tale is just a tale, a story told by a story teller to another person.

Tolkein’s style of writing is straightforward and exact. His descriptions are vivid and it pops out of the book:
“There was a dim sheet of water no longer overshadowed, and on its sliding surface there were dancing and broken reflections of clouds and of stars”

He includes riddles and beautiful, image-evoking poetry , and detailed illustrations in this book that make reading this novel a delight.

A picturesque verse from the book:

Roads go ever ever on,

Over rock and under tree,

By caves where never sun has shone,

By streams that never find the sea;

Over snow by winter sown,

And through the merry flowers of June,

Over grass and over stone,

And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on

Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone

Turn at last to home afar.

Eyes that fire and sword have seen

And horror in the halls of stone

Look at last on meadows green

And trees and hills they long have known.

This book is written only to entertain and it is no allegory, yet there are tiny globules of wisdom scattered in the novel:

“Now things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome may make a good tale”

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”-

I feel this quote is the underlying message the writer divulges to the reader.
This book is a must read for all Tolkein fans and anyone who wants to give hardcore fantasy a shot.