Sunday, 6 November 2016

First post for November (feels like September!)...

OK, enough with this wacky weather!  It feels like late September, not the beginning of November, and while I love the extra opportunities to hang laundry outside, I'm longing for the day when the weather will finally be “seasonal”!  But I am very thankful for the extra hour today - I wish I could figure out a way to gain an extra hour EVERY Sunday!

I was a bit of a reading machine this week, and have two books to tell you about.  The first is the one we discussed at my book club meeting yesterday, White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.  This Booker Prize-winning debut novel is told in the form of letters written by Indian entrepreneur Balram Halwai to Wen Jiabao, Premier of China, and tells the story of Balram’s rise from servant to successful business owner.  His life began in the Darkness, in a small village in rural India, where corruption is as prevalent as in the the Light of the big cities.  With nothing but his wits to help him along, he must somehow find a way to escape his dismal, inevitable fate, despite the pressures from family and society, and he formulates a plan that includes eavesdropping, deception and murder.  But the reader is left wondering whether murder in a corrupt society is a necessary evil, and if a good man sometimes has to do evil things in order to improve the social conditions that surround him.  I listened to this novel a number of years ago as an audiobook, and remembered being impressed particularly with the narration, which was done by my favourite narrator, John Lee.  This was the first book I’d ever heard him narrate, and until I checked, I thought it was narrated by an Indian reader, not a British one.  Anyway, I’d forgotten most of the story, so when I began reading it for the meeting, I wondered if this was really a good choice for discussion.  And I can say that of the members who came out yesterday, two loved the book, two didn’t quite know what to make of it, and one member quite vehemently announced that she hated it and she hoped there were no other books like this on the list for next year (she asked in particular about A Passage to India but I assured her that it was nothing like this book).  These responsess didn’t really surprise me, as the book is “amoral (and) irreverent”, but also “deeply endearing… and utterly contemporary” (from the back cover of the book).  One member who loved the book felt that Balram was to be commended for his desire to break out of his caste and make something of himself besides being the servant of others for the rest of his life, and that he fully realized that he would have to live on the edge of what is moral and immoral, ethical and unethical.  His situation was one of hopelessness, but he was smart enough and ruthless enough to want to get out.  Another member found this book very disturbing, but she thought the humour helped to lighten the mood.  Another member said she had no idea where this book was going, that there was a twist around every corner, and she wasn’t sure if this was, in fact, the story of a poor boy who makes good, as she first thought it was.  At one point, we veered off into a long discussion about biking, bicycalists, and road safety (you'll have to read the book to understand this!). We talked about the culture shock of the East and West (“...our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs” p. 2).  One member wondered why he was writing about his rise to success, what purpose he was trying to achieve by writing these letters and admitting to his actions, all of them, both ethical and unethical:  does he want to be caught?  Is he bragging?  Someone brought up the fact that, despite his success, he has no friends;  he doesn’t trust anyone, and we were pretty sure his family is all dead (not that he had much to do with his family after leaving the Darkness anyway).  The member who did not like this book at all was very disturbed by the inequality, poverty and corruption that is ever-present in Indian culture.  She mentioned the paradox of this:  that India is a land where people make pilgrimages, meditate, go to ashrams, and engage gurus to guide them in their quest for spiritual enlightenment, and yet the country has no morals or ethics and is utterly corrupt.  She said that her social conscience was deeply troubled while reading this book, which is unfortunate (I don’t want my book club members to be upset by the book club selections), but it shows that Adiga has achieved his objective in writing this book:  “At a time when India is going through great changes, ... it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society… that’s what I’m trying to do” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aravind_Adiga).  So I think it was a successful book club selection, and I hope that next month’s choice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, will redeem me in the eyes of the group (just kidding!).  I would highly recommend White Tiger to anyone who is interested in satirical novels, or novels that expose corruption in all its many aspects.  This novel gets a 10 out of 10 from me.

And I have about five pages left of a nail-biter of a novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, the debut novel by British author Ruth Ware.  This unputdownable novel tells the story of a cozy girls’ weekend gone awry, and opens with the main character, crime novelist Nora Shaw, running through the woods.  She is tired and scared, and everything hurts, but she knows she must run, she must keep running, to stay alive.  A few weeks earlier, she received an email invitation to a hen party for Clare, her former best friend from high school, but someone she hasn’t seen for ten years.  Her instinct was to decline the invitation, but when she realized that a mutual friend was also invited, they make a pact to attend and sneer their way through this weekend event, scheduled to take place in a remote glass house in the woods.  Once there, however, Nora’s past, which she has done her best to leave completely behind her, is thrust upon her again and again, and it seems she is unable to escape it this time.  She keeps wondering why she was invited at all, and when things start to go wrong, she suspects that there may be an ulterior motive behind her inclusion on the list of guests.  But she could never have guessed how far one person would be willing to go to secure the perfect life… a life that may not include her.  This book grabbed me from the very first page, and I stayed up late reading long after I should have closed the book and gone to bed.  It was a bit like The Silent Wife meets Before I Go to Sleep, with Nora’s inability to remember the last few hours in the house playing a large part in creating the suspense in the story.  The writing was excellent, offering the reader just enough information in every chapter to begin to piece together the bigger picture, but not giving too much away at any one time.  But the last few chapters, where all is revealed, felt rather forced and unbelievable, a bit over-the-top and disappointing… maybe the last chapter will redeem the ending, but I have my doubts.  Overall, though, it was one of the better books I’ve read in this genre (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Couple Next Door, etc.), although The Silent Wife is my personal favourite.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these types of thrillers.  I’m looking forward to her next book, The Woman in Cabin 10, due to be released in January 2017.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the gorgeously “unseasonable” weather!

Bye for now…
Julie

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