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review 2018-02-05 15:38
If on a winter's night a traveler
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler - William Weaver,Italo Calvino

An exercise in parody

 

 

You are about to read அரவிந்தாக்க்ஷன review of calvino’s work. Ask your people not to call you for any reason whatsoever for next few minutes.
You are reading this since Calvino’s work interest you. You have read all his other works except this. You have read about it Somewhere vaguely, so you ought to find what I have to say about it or rather I have been pestering you to read it by sending u a link of my review for past few days.

 


At this point, you get bored that I have not said anything about the work. Somewhere in your mind, there is a mild thought that I may say something about this work at the 119th word of this post.

 


But you are mistaken to find and let down that I have still not said anything worthwhile.

Just when u think I am going to say something about calvino’s work you are called by someone in your house and you throw your mobile which refreshes the facebook page in a rare instance or in a fit of alarm you close your PC’s window.
You return to your device and continue reading this review, but you find you are reading some other book’s review by someone else.

 

 

You read first few sentences and have formed a liking for this new book not connected to அரவிந்தாக்க்ஷன் review.

Before this happens you have informed your friend ( who takes interest in Indian languages ) about finding my Tamil name in facebook and sending my profile link.

 

 

The person to whom this has been assigned is a person who considers himself a polyglot, but he is a more of a novelty seeker than a serious learner of languages. He Learns a bit in one language and switches to some other Language, after the initial high recedes. So goes his routine of language seeking.

So the person tries to find the keys in his google keyboard and mistakenly believes his strength in knowledge of Tamil rather than using Google’s English translator to Tamil equivalent. So the person comes up with ரவி கிரண் in place of அரவிந்தாக்க்ஷன், sends the same to you.

 

 

You, when the message pops, stop reading the current review and checks the profile and confirms by the photo that it’s the same person and returns to the review of which you have been reading and finds the review to be quite different suddenly. Actually, the writer of the review at this point discusses the subplot of the work he is reviewing. It takes a while for you to understand this and finally you find this is a book by the same author calvino which you haven’t read already, called “Outside the Town of Malbrok”.

 


You are sad, but comes back to this ரவி கிரண் review to read the rest of the review, which you think அரவிந்தாக்க்ஷன் has written and find it completely a new book, but again by calvino, called “learning from the steep slope”.

This has made you further sad, you thought you have read everything by calvino except his “If on a winter’s night traveler”.

Just while this goes in your head you notice that this is not Aravindakshan’s profile, his profile photo was different and also, a simple common sense strikes you. How could he write a review other than if on a winter night’s a traveler ?

 

.

You confirm that this is not Aravindakshan’s profile by scrolling further in Ravi kiran’s profile and not finding Calvino’s “if on a winter night’s a traveler” review. Perhaps a double!(?), you think, since the face resembles Aravindakshan.

 

 

Now, you try to reorder your thoughts and your memory for a minute, slowly and understands it all started when u read அரவிந்தாக்க்ஷன் review of Italo calvino’s “if on a winter’s night a traveler”.

 


Actually, the truth was, your liking for the second review, is in a way as a connection to the review of the first which you have not yet sensed, both which in turn is connected to Ravi kiran’s review.

Since it was all started by the first reviewer you scroll to find his review again to see whether he has finally said anything about the book at the “god knows what word by now”.
You couldn’t find it. The post is lost amidst the sea of posts churned out on facebook.

You ask your friend to check whether he as turned up with the right profile. Even though it has hurt his ego he checks and realise his mistake but while clarifying to you, he points the mistake to the linguistic peculiarity of Tamil rather than accept his own mistake.
With the new exact Tamil words for Aravindakshan, you search
Facebook, but it says the profile cannot be found

 

.

Aravindakshan meanwhile, after clicking the share button lost his interest in virtual life and once for all decided to do away with all this virtual imagery.

You try to check Ravi kiran’s review which couldn’t be found either since the owner of both Profiles is created by a person called Srivatsan and he has deactivated both the accounts.

 

 

You feel lost. He has set the wheel in motion and now he has vanished. You return to the other reviewer’s post(the unnamed reviewer) to find the connection between the two reviews to his. You stretch your memory to think of the earlier reviews and place this other review to form a whole but you cannot do, since this reviewer at the end of his review points to another review, which he says the book’s plot is mainly centered on.
It reads a review of Calvino’s “without fear of wind or vertigo” by Gullu.

 

 

You are tired, but you still follow the trail of reviews centered on Calvino. You are half way at Gullu’s review, by then you are sure that all the review is of a different story, separate books, but from the same author.
You feel salty by all this and also thirsty. You feel it whenever you read something for too long without any proper direction.

 

 

You feel betrayed by the author because you were thinking he was the only author you have read extensively.
Now it’s all a dream, he has been writing in private and holding all the books from the public but to his own favorite readers and you are not one of that favoured readers.
You sleep dejected and cry the whole night.

 

 

Now, Aravindakshan having started this act of knotting this textual thread has been lost in the maze of his own and struggles to get out and finish this. In effect, understands the greatness and difficulty in writing a piece such as this. Comes out appreciating Calvino’s Magnum opus further, even though he did feel boring in the middle of the book.

 

 

But the story doesn’t end here. Aravindakshan or ravi kiran or Srivatsan reactivates his fb again in some days as is always the case and sends you, being a dear friend of his, this review, with a line saying it’s a classic by Calvino.
I leave it to you how you might have reacted.

 

 

Post factum :
You decide to buy “if on a winter’s night a traveler” to prove Aravindakshan how better admirer you are of Calvino's work and find these separate titles are all from the same book to your surprise, relief. You feel it’s more dizzying and original than most post-modern lit.

 

 

Post scriptum :
It was later found that the unnamed reviewer above is a profile named Preethy sweety chicy which is one of Aravindakshan’s hidden profile to befriend female profiles, Rather sheepish act you say, I concur with you.

why he didn’t deactivate all of his profiles including Gullu’s is a question that is still unanswered and whether this hints at something about the Calvino's book is a matter of serious discussion among this review readers.

 

 

Originally posted at my blog: https://diffusedmode.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/book-review-if-on-a-winters-night-a-traveler/

 

                             

 

Source: diffusedmode.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/book-review-if-on-a-winters-night-a-traveler
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review 2017-08-14 10:10
A contemplative look at the life of a village for those who love a different kind of writing.
Reservoir 13: A Novel - Jon McGregor

Thanks to NetGalley and to Haper Collins UK Fourth State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I had never read one of Jon McGregor’s novels before but I was curious by the description of this novel and more curious when I saw it had been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The biography of the author intrigued me even more and I finally managed to read the book.

The book starts with the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl, a visitor holidaying, with her parents, to a village in Britain (not too distant from Manchester and also near enough to Leeds and Sheffield for those cities to make appearances, so probably in the general area where I live). Despite a large search party and much publicity and community effort, the girl does not appear. At first, everything is stopped: Council meetings, Christmas celebrations, the lives of her parents who remain in the village for a long time. Slowly, things go back to almost normal, with only the anniversary of her disappearance as a reminder that something tragic happened there. Life returns to its natural rhythms. There are births, deaths, people get married, separate, get new jobs, are made redundant, people move into the village and out, cricket matches are lost (mostly), the weather is very wet, and occasionally dry, the reservoirs are checked, the quarries exploited or not, there are pantomimes, well-dressing, Mischief nights, birds come and go, clocks go back and forth, foxes are born, bats hibernate, crimes are committed, crops harvested, farm animals looked after…

The novel (if it is a novel) is a slice of the life of the community of that village. The story is told in the third person from an omniscient point of view, and one that seems to be an objective observer that peeps into people’s heads (and observes animals) but without becoming over involved with feelings, just describing what people might think, but not going any further than that. The style of writing is peculiar, and perhaps not suited to everybody’s taste. There are very beautiful sentences and a particular rhythm to the paragraphs, which are not divided according to the different characters’ points of view or stories and can go from weather to animals to a person’s actions. Each anniversary of the girl’s disappearance marks a new year, but, otherwise, there is little to differentiate what happens, other than the chronology and the passing of time for the characters, the houses, and the village itself.

There are no individual characters that have a bigger share of the limelight. We have the youngsters, who had known the missing girl, and we follow them, but we also follow the female priest, the teachers at school, several farmers, a potter, the newspaper editor and his wife, the school keeper and his sister… We get to know a fair bit about each one of them but not at an emotional level, and we become observers too, rather than putting ourselves in the place of the characters to share their feelings and thoughts. It makes for a strange reading experience, and not one everybody will enjoy. It is as if we were supposed to let the words wash over us and explore a different way of reading, pretty much like the passing of life itself.

There is no resolution (there isn’t in life either) and I have read quite a few reviews where readers were disappointed as they kept reading waiting for some sort of final reveal that never comes. We are used to classic narratives with beginning, middle, and end, and being confronted by a different kind of structure can make us uncomfortable. This novel reminded me, in some ways, of the film The Tree of Life directed by Terrence Malick, although in that case, the story was more circumscribed and here it is more choral (and less involved).  Reviewers who know McGregor’s previous work are not in agreement about this novel, as some feel it shows a development of his style and is the best of his yet, whilst others prefer some of his earlier work. My advice to those who have never read him would be to check a sample of the novel and see how they feel (although, remember that the earlier focus on the search for the girl dies down later). This is not a spoiler as the author has said saw in quite a few interviews and it is clear from the description that this is not a mystery novel.

In sum, this is a novel for people interested in new and post-modern writing, rather than for those looking for a conventional story. If you are annoyed by head hopping and strange writing techniques and like to find a clear ending, then stay away from it. If you enjoy meditation and savouring every moment and are prepared for a different type of reading, you might be in for a treat.  

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review 2017-05-19 10:43
A difficult book to define that touches on interesting topics
The Transition - Luke Kennard

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins UK, 4th Estate for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely decided to review.

Just as a matter of curiosity and before I wrote this review, I checked if this novel had made it into the shortlist of the Desmond Elliott Prize for Fiction (a prize for what they call ‘future literary luminaries’) but it hasn’t. I have one of the three books that have made it in my pile of books to read so I’ll try and catch up and keep you posted. But now, the review.

I must confess that sometimes my list of books to read gets so long that when I try to catch-up I realise a long time has passed between my acquiring a copy of the book and the time I get to read it. Although in some cases it’s fairly evident, in others I’m no longer sure why I chose a particular book and can’t remember anything about it, so I plunge into it with few expectations. This novel is one of those. The cover is fairly non-descript and the title at best could be described as intriguing (but abstract. In fact, being Spanish, the Transition makes me think of the process of political change from Franco’s dictatorship into a democracy) but it doesn’t give much of the game away. The novel is a bit like that too. I suspect whatever I think of it right now, I’ll be mulling over it for a long while.

Karl, the protagonist, is a young man with a good English degree that he uses to try and make a living on-line, writing fake reviews and term papers for students. His wife, Genevieve, is a primary school teacher. They live well beyond their means (in what appears to be, as the book progresses, a general state of affair for young couples of their generation and that is uncomfortably close to reality) and, eventually, he ends up accused of fraud. (He is not wrongly accused, although the circumstances are easy to understand). Instead of prison, he is offered a way out; he can join a scheme that promises a step up the property ladder, help to start some sort of business, and a six month’s stay, rent-free with mentors who will help in the process of rehabilitation. Although his wife has committed no crime, she also becomes a part of the project. The details are somewhat fuzzy and we soon realise they don’t add up(Karl is told that the Transition is a new pilot programme but he later discovers it has been going on for well over ten years, who is behind it remains unclear, he starts hearing rumours about possible books that explain the philosophy of the programme, and the mentors they are staying with, Jana and Stu, seem to have more than a few cards up their sleeves) and what seems at first helpful and benign, soon morphs into something mysterious, seemingly conspiratorial and with a sinister ring, at least inside of Karl’s head. He pushes the boundaries, gets into more and more trouble and things take a turn for the worse. Has Karl been right in his suspicions all along?

The novel is narrated in the third person restricted to Karl’s point of view. As a writer (even if his content would not win the Pulitzer Prize), he is articulate and we get information about the variety of online writing projects he engages in. He might write an essay about fairy tales one day, several five-star reviews about a chair and then another essay about ellipses in Henry James. (He moves from the sublime to the ridiculous, the same as the novel does, but eventually, it isn’t clear if there is any substantial difference between the two). His sense of morals seems restricted to loving his wife and trying to ensure she is well, as she has mental health problems and he protects her and looks after her, even when she does not want him to. Karl is clearly besotted with his wife, despite the difficulties in their relationship, and his was love at first sight. Although we only have his point of view as a guide, judging by other characters’ reaction to her, Genevieve is an attractive and engaging woman whom everybody feels drawn to and Karl is convinced he is extremely lucky (and perhaps unworthy) to be with her. Other than that relationship, Karl does not seem to have any meaningful ones. He mentions his father but not with particular affection and his relationship with his friend, the accountant who suggested he joins the scheme, seems based more on past shared experiences than on a real bond (as becomes evident later in the novel). There are instances of Karl not being truthful (he keeps information hidden from Genevieve, some we are aware of but some we aren’t) and he does not fit in most readers’ idea of a hero. He has devious morals, he sabotages himself, he is self-interested, and yes, he is flawed, but not ‘deeply’ flawed. Personally, I could not find much to like or truly dislike in him. He has moments of insight and shares some interesting reflections about life, but like with the novel, there is some unfinished quality about him. He will only go so far and no farther and he can act rashly one minute and be truly passive or passive-aggressive the next.

The action seems to take place in a future not far from our present. There is no world building and the social situation seems pretty similar to that of the UK today. Computer technology has not advanced in any noticeable way and the problem with affordable housing seems to be only marginally worse than the present one, although self-driven cars abound. There are descriptions of paintings, some buildings, clothes, interior design, and some characters but dependent on what might catch Karl’s attention. I have seen the book described as a dystopia, but it is not clear to me that the whole world order is affected by the Transition (perhaps they have some designs towards world domination, but it isn’t that clear), and it does not fit neatly into the category of science-fiction either. Karl acts as an amateur detective at times, and the novel has touches of the conspiracy theory behind it, but they don’t seem fully formed. I have also read some reviews saying it is humorous, and there are funny moments, especially if one considers the contrast between the worst of our suspicions and what actually happens, but it is not a comedy in the traditional sense; even calling it a dark comedy would be a bit of a stretch.  As a psychiatrist, I was particularly interested in the mental health angle and although it is not fully developed, it highlights some of the ongoing issues with such diagnoses, and it rings more true to me that some other angles of the story.

The author is better known as a poet, and the book is well-written although I wouldn’t say the language is particularly poetic or compelling. Like a post-modern puzzle, the book includes bits of the mentor’s book, diary extracts, documents, messages…  Ultimately, it does not leave everything to the reader’s imagination and struggles to impose a meaning that does not sit comfortably with it.

I have read some of the reviews and I agree that the book’s beginning is very promising but it does not deliver fully. In my opinion, it might be a matter of genre and also tone of voice (the light and comedic touches didn’t always seem congruous with the background atmosphere, although that could be read as a reflection of the narrator’s state of mind). The characters are not that easy to engage with (I found Karl understandable but not always emotionally relatable) either and the action and the story are not fully realised. The novel is ambitious and tries to do many things, some which seem to be in contradiction to each other, and that creates a tension that makes it crack at the seams.

On the other hand, the ideas behind the novel are interesting, the book is easy to read and the reflections and social comments are spot on, even if they are not resolved. I can’t see this book causing extreme reactions on its readers, but it would be a source of lively discussion in a book club. And I’m intrigued to see what the author will write about next.

 

 

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review 2016-05-30 14:12
Killing an Arab
The Outsider - Albert Camus

When I was a lot younger one of my favourite bands was The Cure. I remember sitting in my lounge room with my friends with The Cures greatest hits ablum blaring out and as soon as the tape came to an end I would jump up, and immediately flick it over onto the otherside, and press play before my neighbour would cut in and throw Sergeant Peppers on so as to break the monotony. One of the songs that I remember clearly was 'Killing an Arab', though I have to admit that I had no idea what it was about. Actually, I thought I knew what it was about, but in reality I didn't because, well, I hadn't even hear of Albert Camus, let along L'Etranger (I even played it in the lead up to the gulf war in protest against it – once again having no idea what it was about).

 

 

Sure, I might have thought that it was some criticism of the Middle East crisis, even though it was pretty relevant when the Gulf War flared up, especially how the Arab that is killed halfway through the book is and remains nameless (as do all of the other Arabs in the story), however what I didn't realise was that this one song is actually about that event upon which the entire book turns – the murder, in cold blood no less, of an Arab on the beach. Sure, one could argue that Meursalt was provoked, especially since there had been an ongoing tussle between Meursalt and his friends and these unnamed Arabs, but the thing is that Meursalt simply doesn't seem to feel any emotion. Okay, it does play out along the lines of him walking down the beach (with a gun in his hand nonetheless, though we must remember that the reason he took this gun was so that his friend didn't do anything stupid with it), and it is pretty hot – in fact it is so hot that he is suffering from heatstroke – when he comes across this Arab who pulls a knife on him, so he shoots him, thinks about it a bit, and then puts four more bullets into him just to make sure he is dead. He then wanders off pondering on how hot it is.

 

The problem that I find with this book is that Trevor has already written a review on Goodreads that so captures the essence of the book (and in fact it was his review that made me want to read the book, and also the fact that one seems to constantly come across references of an Arab being shot on the beach) that I feel that there is little, if anything, further that I can say. However, as I am apt to do, I feel that I would be wasting the time that I spent reading this book if I didn't actually write about it.

 

The thing about the book is in the title – The Stranger, The Outsider, or as it is in French L'Etranger. Before I started reading the book my thoughts were all about how it actually feels to be an outsider in society – sort of what I am like – being able to connect, but in a way not being able to connect. Okay, I would hardly consider myself an outsider in the vein of Meursalt, but being in part an introvert, and not having any real empathy about me (though I would have to say that I have little, if any, empathy for people who suffer from first world problems), I can sort of connect with him (though I'd hardly say I'm unempathetic – it's just that I don't have any empathy for people with first world problems).

 

http://i.huffpost.com/gadgets/slideshows/346983/slide_346983_3666001_free.jpg

 

Mind you the thing that makes him an outsider is that he didn't cry at his mother's funeral. That to me doesn't really mean all that much because I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there that wouldn't cry, let alone attend, their mother's funeral (and not being a hugely tearful guy, I'm not sure if I would cry at my mother's funeral, though since my mother isn't dead yet I can't say whether that will be true or not – still I did cry at the end of King Lear).

 

Camus suggests that anybody who doesn't cry at their mother's funeral is condemned to death – though the truth is that we are all condemned to death (as the priest says at the end). It is interesting that Trevor suggests that we all assume that he is executed, yet the book never actually tells us that he was executed. In reality we don't know whether or not he will be, though from Camus' admission I suspect that he is. The thing is that it is not so much that he was executed because he killed the Arab – in fact I'm not entirely sure whether anybody actually cared, the only reason that he was put on trial was so that people could see that you can't really go around randomly shooting people. Rather, as Camus suggested, it had more to do with the fact that he refused to lie. He wasn't executed for murder he was executed for being honest.

 

That's the thing with honesty – it gets you into a lot of trouble. They say that honesty is the best policy, but I guarantee you that if you are honest then bad things are going to happen to you. In fact if you are honest you probably aren't going to have all that many friends: hi, how are you? Pretty crap. You see with that one question, everybody, except maybe with your closest friends, expects you to lie. You could feel pretty horrible, have had one of the most miserable days, but when somebody asks you how you are they don't want to hear the truth – in fact that it is the last thing that they want to hear. No, they want you to lie.

 

This brings me to the point of the trial – that is another place where honesty is certainly not going to get you anywhere. If you are up for murder and you are asked why you killed the victim, the wrong (even if it is true) answer would be 'because he/she deserved it, and if I had a chance I would do it again'. No, you are actually supposed to do the opposite – it was the heat of the moment, or whatever other excuse one can come up with. Mind you, it might be suggested that the whole idea of a trial is to get to the truth, but in reality it comes down to simply who can tell the better story, and who can impress the jury better.

 

Then there is the question of freedom. Meursalt is told that the reason he has lost his freedom is because he is being punished. But he doesn't seem to particularly care whether he can wander around outside or not. Okay, sure, he does go through some doubts, suggesting that he should have spent more time watching executions to see how one behaves in an execution, but in the end he realises that despite the fact that he is trapped in the cell, he still has his freedom. This realisation comes about when the chaplain finally comes in and tells him that since he is about to die then maybe he should confess to God. To Meursalt this is absurd – he doesn't believe in God, and it doesn't matter that he is facing the chopping block, he doesn't seem to see any particular reason why he should believe in God. It seems to be a part of this absurd idea where people, who are facing death, suddenly see that it might be a good idea to suddenly start believing in something that they have never believed in their entire life.

 

Okay, I'm not an atheist, so sometimes I find it hard to see the nature of this absurd world that writers like Camus explore, of if I do I see it through the eyes of a Christian. Mind you, the fact that I actually read this book as opposed to simply writing it off as another piece of humanist rubbish, as a lot of Christians are apt to do, probably says a lot more about the nature of my faith than what the general population generally consider Christians to be. That doesn't mean that I don't consider the world to be absurd and pointless at times – in many cases it is. However this absurdity comes into play very much in the Christian sphere. I have heard many of them run around claiming that God has a plan for our lives, and then start pulling out old Testament characters to prove it – yet to me this is absurd. What makes the Christian whom 'God has a plan for their lives' any different from the thousands, if not millions, of other Christians out there.

 

Anyway, I think I've waffled on enough, and probably should finish this off, especially since I do have to go to work tomorrow, and it already is getting pretty late.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1651003446
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photo 2014-05-26 18:42

This is helpful. Now I know why my computer is trying to mess with me.

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