Book Review:Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Little did I know that I was getting myself into yet another dystopia by taking up this novel. The story begins in the perfect boarding school you could think of, in Hailsham, a picturesque school with spacious playgrounds and gardens; where the guardians are kind and considerate and the students are encouraged to be creative, to appreciate art and poetry and everything beautiful.

The scientific details in the book about the structure of the dystopia are sparse, I can even say that everything scientific is very subtly dealt with. I found it both strange and delightful that this novel zooms in on the relationships of the characters and their wavering emotions and not on the principles that form the foundations of the dystopia. I never thought that I would enjoy reading this book this much, maybe it’s because everything converges on a boarding school and it is about love and friendship, and how seemingly insignificant events shape people into what they become.

Kathy. H , the narrator is someone you will immediately warm up to- compassionate, tolerant, and observant. Ruth on the other hand, is not an endearing character but is more complex and full of layers, that one cannot completely categorize her. Tommy is also a character that you cannot help but be drawn towards- a person with “ a bad temper, but a big heart”. Despite the novel being about love and friendship, you don’t come across the characters talking at length about love and friendship, and everything is implied in their behaviour and mannerisms. The fate of the characters slowly unravels, it doesn’t hit me or leave me blindsided. Just like Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, I too had come to accept how everything will conclude.

Throughout the narrative, a feeling of resignation lingers. Rebellions and public demonstrations have no place in this dystopia. The students accept their futures for what they are. And there is something both brave and cowardly about this. Never Let Me Go would make you ponder over the fleeting moments that you shared with your friends and it is a book you should not let go of.

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Book Review: Brave New Word by Aldous Huxley

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In Brave New World, you enter the Fordian world that functions as a well-oiled machine, with every part working perfectly. There are machines for everything, sundry surrogate materials, helicopters for commutation, and drugs that guarantee happiness and solace. Human beings are mass produced in embryonic bottles and are segregated into five distinct groups- the upper class Alphas, the Betas, the Gammas, the Deltas, and the moronic Epsilons. The five groups are conditioned continually on their own class disparities and their duties so as to avoid conflicts. They devoutly believe that, “everyone belongs to everyone else”. The Fordian world allows entry to an “uncivilized” man, John “Savage”, who fails to comprehend its civilized nature.

This book is well ahead of its times. Reading the first few pages of the book was akin to waking up from a dream I couldn’t fully remember nor understand. The utopia depicted in the novel is one that I think many people in the present age would gladly be part of- a place where you are ruled by comfort and recreational sex. Ironically the “civilized” Fordian society is founded on stability and the concept of conditioning, and not on love, loyalty, and compassion, everything that makes humans humane. In this utopia, religion is outdated, science is feared, familial relationships are a joke, and people or more accurately; genetically-engineered clones live conditioned lives robbed of their free will. Living in a world sans poetry, beauty, and truth, seems insane to me. People go about their lives unaware that every decision, move they take, is a result of conditioning. Strangely in a world where man is free from sorrow and all things unpleasant, he is not free to think on his own. This novel warns the readers of the path scientific development is to take, and its potential consequences.

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy”

John Savage

The novel’s connection to Shakespeare’s The Tempest cannot be ignored starting from the title to John’s sobriquet “Savage”, which alludes to Caliban. There is nothing brave about the brave new world where the people lead seemingly content lives never risking change and maintaining a pseudo stability. It is essentially a dystopia in the garb of a utopia. The book attempts to discuss the nature of a utopia by drawing on both modernity and tradition. The question the novel poses is that will we be able to tackle our future even if it stares in our faces?

Deep Fried

She fingered the circular scar on her face as she looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes glinted defiantly back at her. Smoking is injurious to health, but what is more injurious is when victims turn vengeful. The mark on her face was going to stay, but she had taken care of the person who had marred her face with a cigarette butt. When people played with fire, they were bound to get burned. And he had burnt like a potato chip.

Book Review: Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair

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Ladies Coupe is a feminist novel that explores the roles and the rights of women in Indian society. The novel focuses on Akhila, a forty- five- year- old spinster, who is on a journey to ascertain what a woman can and cannot do. Weighed down by the responsibilities thrust on her as the daughter, sister, and breadwinner; she feels herself sinking into the morass of life unable to give vent to her womanly desires. In the ladies coupe of The Kanyakumari Express she encounters five women-Janaki, Margaret, Sheela, Prabha Devi, and Marikolanthu—women who belong to different age groups leading starkly different lives.

But unlike Akhila, these women are able to assert themselves and take control of their lives. Ladies Coupe is a remarkable novel that probes into the deceptively simple problems that women face. Here Anita Nair weaves together the threads of life of five diverse women forming a tapestry that is both melancholic and sanguine. She delves into the illusory nature of freedom that women generally experience meditating upon the feasibility of complete freedom.

This novel made me reflect on what it is to be a woman and the choices we have and whether we should restrict ourselves to the choices available or break barriers. Captivating and inspirational, this novel will definitely make you turn to yourself and think about the decisions that have been taken and the decision that are to be taken.

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.

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.