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review 2014-10-11 00:16
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

This is the fist book I’ve picked up from the Man Booker longlist. Yes I had some trouble getting a few of them while I was in the States. In fact, I only managed to pick up two, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Since then I’ve managed to pick up a few others either in e-book form or ordering physical copies online. Happily the first two I picked up this summer have been put on the shortlist. Is that a sign that I can choose a good book by its cover? Hmmm! Probably not. Trying to acquire a few of these longlisted intriguing novels, I decided to pick up We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves first.

After reading the description on the back cover I was worried that it would be contrived and gimmicky. Some say the description is a big spoiler however I found the book was more than what was described on the back cover and anyway everybody has heard or knows the basic principle of the novel. Fowler created a story full of anxiousness, mystery, and sensitivity. We follow a dysfunctional family through the eyes of the main character, Rosemary Cooke. Or is she the main character? Rosemary is quirky, slightly guarded, highly intelligent, and honest. She is quite the reliable narrator, which we can see clearly when she second guesses some of her memories as she recounts the first few years of her life living with her “sister” Fern and brother Lowell.

The novel opens with the voice of a character who is hiding herself and her pain. A pain that she has held within herself for many years. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is Rosemary’s attempt to come to terms with all that is and has been wrong with her family since the addition of a baby chimpanzee to their family called Fern. Who would have known the consequences of this addition to the family?

Rosemary’s parents are distant and acting as they see fit or as they would think is necessary. Rosemary’s relationship with her father seems strained beyond repair. As the story continues, it becomes clear where the problems lie. The entire family has strained relationships with each other due to Fern’s appearance. It’s as if Fern became the focal point of the family and no other member of the family saw the other family members’ needs.

Fowler constructed the story in a way that you don’t get the full picture until the very last page. Starting in the middle of the story, clues about the Cooke family are strewn through the pages almost as if it were a journal. Rosemary is witty and at times brutally honest. She gives us all the information we need to know, facts included. The language Fowler uses and her writing style contribute to the novel’s emotional power. I was marvelled at Fowler’s brilliance in choosing certain vocabulary and expression. Communication and language were two of the primary themes in this novel and we as readers got to have a closer look at these themes from many angles. Communication and language are what initially separates the Cooke’s, however it is what drew them closer to Fern.

I couldn’t help it but I found myself searching for information on chimpanzees that had been raised with humans and ran across a few You Tube videos. There was something seriously unsettling, eery, and lugubrious about it all. It just didn’t seem right from the child’s point of view and certainly not from the chimpanzees’. I found this book incredibly moving and informative. I think it might have a good chance to win the Man Booker but who knows since I haven’t read any of the other shortlisted ones yet. However, this one is a must read and is very difficult to put down.

Karen Joy Fowler is known for having written sixteen books in total including The Jane Austen Book Club, which was adapted to film in 2007. Some of her other novels are Wit’s End, Sarah Canary, Sister Noon, Black Glass, The Sweetheart Season, What I Didn’t See: Stories, and many more. She broke into writing with her well-known collection of science-fiction short stories called Artificial Things in 1986. She also won the Pen/Faulkner Award 2014. She’s been lucky to have been chosen for the Man Booker shortlist, for the first year that the competition was open to authors outside of the Commonwealth, as well as being nominated for a 2014 Nebula Award. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is definitely a five-star book not to miss out on.

Source: didibooksenglish.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/we-are-all-completely-beside-ourselves
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review 2013-12-11 08:31
The Past in the Present
The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri
"It was as if Udayan were there, speaking to him, teasing him. He felt their loyalty to one another, their affection, stretched halfway across the world. Stretched perhaps to the breaking point by all that now stood between them, but at the same time refusing to break."


You don't have to be in a certain place, at a certain time to be able to catch the faint thrum of the lifeblood coursing through the pages of this book, live the heartbreak of its characters, to develop a sense of solidarity with their loss and desperation, to gaze at the spectacle of their unravelling fates across continents. But it will help if you have lived, at some point in time, in a city christened Calcutta by the British and rechristened Kolkata (the pure Bengali name) centuries later by a government intent on erasing telling signs of a nation's unfortunate colonial past. It will help if you have ever felt rudderless, adrift in a sea of anonymous human faces, unable to come to terms with a painful event, its aftermath too profound and terrible for you to grasp at once. It will help if you are carrying on with a half-life thousands of miles away from the land of your birth, toeing the line of divide between two distinct yet similar worlds. 

I have lived near Tollygunge all my life - a sort of an overlapping region between the place where I spent the earliest years of my childhood and the place where I grew into a young woman. Every time I arrive at the beginning of Tollygunge Circular Road from another portion of the city, I know with a comforting certainty that I am close to home, close to the assurance of rest and a meal, close to where my loved ones await my return as yet another day reaches its inevitable end. And Ms Lahiri has brought my humble, modest, familiar Tollygunge to life. Reminded me that my decrepit and majestic city has been witness to the rise and decline of too many political regimes, to the bloodletting during senseless communal riots and a terrible famine manufactured by a colonial administration too busy fighting a world war. That my city has been living for centuries before I was born, like a mythical, gargantuan beast and that it would continue to throb with life and activity years after I am gone. How silly is it that in the eagerness to match steps with the developed world, to achieve set targets, we forget the blood-soaked, tear-streaked history of the country we live in, that we are inextricably bound to the political upheavals which serve as foundation stones to our present state of equanimity, to the sheer tragedy and violence of turbulent times.

Neither am I Jhumpa Lahiri's biggest fan nor her harshest critic. My reaction to her writing has been very subdued so far. In addition, Ms Lahiri never seems to accomplish anything else other than rehashing the same old themes of nostalgia, the very cliched search for identity and the familiar rigmarole in novels recounting the immigrant experience. But with The Lowland, she has achieved something monumental, managed to rekindle an extinguished flame within me. Perhaps her achievement lies in an accurate enactment of that unmistakable sensation of being anchored to a place and a way of life, of being pulled towards a powerful centre. Whatever the case maybe, my past resentment about her 'undeserved' Pulitzer win is now gone as if it never was. 

It's like she has reached out to me from across the shores of the Pacific, held my hand and gently propelled me towards a life-like portrait of Calcutta, my Kolkata, the maddening, mystifying, glorious and ugly city of my birth which will remain as beloved to me by any other name, towards the people who inhabit its upscale townships and dingy shanties, towards the unknown stories of hardship and triumph which breathe life into this jungle of steel, brick and mortar, towards the struggles of an ill-fated generation now forgotten in the mad dash for globalization, towards a culture which has molded me into what I am today. It felt like looking into a mirror after a prolonged gap and spotting something hitherto undetected in that reflection. It felt like remembering something important.

I won't go into the subject of Udayan's misguided idealism and the havoc it wreaked in the lives of his loved ones. I won't elaborate on how Subhash ended up living a proxy life, responsibly stepping up to assume all the roles designated for his brother. I will not retrace Gauri's path to self-discovery and emancipation from the assigned identities of bereaved widow, dutiful daughter-in-law, mere wife and mother. And I certainly will not defend or condemn her refusal to let her life be defined by the flawed choices of the man she loved. 
Instead I would only leave you with a polite request to place your faith in the Booker committee's judgement and read this. Regardless of where you may have grown up - Rhode Island or Tollygunge - irrespective of whichever movement has left its indelible mark on the socio-political landscape of your nation -SDS or Naxalite agitation - Ms Lahiri will take you on a trip down memory lane, back to your roots, to the values that reside at your core and hold you together, to the people you have left behind somewhere in this long, befuddling journey of life but cannot ever forget. And she may remind you of who you used to be once and what you are now.

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url 2013-11-21 18:04
The ShortList Crime Challenge

 

300 word long original noir stories by Anthony Horowitz, Denise Mina, George Pelecanos, Will Self, John Connolly, Joe R. Lansdale and others, in celebration of the ShortList's 300th issue.

Source: www.shortlist.com/entertainment/books/the-shortlist-crime-challenge
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text 2012-09-11 13:49
Man Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

The Man Booker Prize 2012The Man Booker Prize Longlist announced in July consisted of 12 books. Now we know final 6 that will compete for The Man Booker Prize 2012. The winner will be announced 16 October. 

 

Shorlisted books are very different from each other in all possible shades, from themes through genres to construction.  Let's meet finalists. 

 

Bring Up the Bodies is a second installment in author's historical trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. The Garden of Evening Mists is Eng's second novel. The story touches social and political aspects after WWII around Japanese war criminals.

Narcopolis is Indian poet's debut novel presenting tough life full of drugs, alcohol, sex perversions but also love and god. The Lighthouse is also a debut  and tells a story of a man who tries to find himself. Swimming Home is a mix of moder literary and mystery genres with turns and tension. And Self's Umbrella is intriguing but demanding read set in mental asylum. 

 

So which book should be the winner?

 

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