Possesion: A Romance – Book Review

Where I, a person with no legitimate literary qualifications, pass my judgement on books I read.

Written by A.S. Byatt

The Plot:

The story begins with a literary researcher finding drafts of a letter written by Randolph Henry Ash to Christabel LaMotte (both fictional victorian era poets) who are not known to have had any correspondence with each other, giving a chance to our protagonist, Roland Mitchell, to go hunting for a love affair from the past.

What I thought:

This novel arrived at my doorstep much as the lead character in the book found those letters – mere chance. Perhaps it was the universe’s conspiracy, because judging by its cover, its name, and the fact that it describes itself as ‘romance’ I would have never picked up this book myself. But I randomly signed up for a book gifting chain, and this one came from a stranger with a sweet note. I decided to read it after all because the cover said ‘Booker Prize Winner’.

The first chapter too is not very appealing. Although if you have a thing for old libraries perhaps you’ll be hooked instantly. The book does trudge along at a rather slow pace at certain points, I skipped over some portions and came close to giving up often.
Having said that, if you survive past some of the slow chapters, the book picks up brilliantly after a point giving you a rush that you never thought was possible in detective-like a novel with no bloodshed, no guns and no knifes. Just words.
And oh! What words. The language does keep you hooked. The sentences are beautifully woven, and you’ll often want to go back and read it again. And note them down.
It is not a romance with a happily ever after, but in line with real life where mortality has ensured that no story really ever sees an end. There is always an unfinished factor to our lives. That’s the taste this book leaves you with.
The last page, the last line left me with a sense of how fickle our lives really are, and what means a world to us today is going to be nothing but ashes and dust.
I digress. The book isn’t all philosophy. It is a lot more about language and academia.
A particular concept from the book did stick on to my mind, where two of the characters speak of metaphor. Our need to look for meaning and symbols in nature, or in poetry – colouring what we see with our experience, our sexuality. The protagonist stresses on how we have lost our ability to experience nature in its purity and are casting our own thoughts over it.
I thought it was pretty cool and I when I next meet my english teacher from school, I ll tell her that when the poet said that the curtains were blue, he was probably not referring to depression and perhaps simply meant that the curtains were damn blue!
The character build up is quiet inspiring. Byatt does not rush it, you continue to get to know the lead characters ever till the end.
Another thing I loved about the book was how it wove in writing styles of two different time periods, throwing in fictional literary pieces. It flits back and forth between the era bygone, and the 80s – and you just don’t seem to be getting enough of both.

Things you should know:

It won the 1990 Booker Prize. The novel was adapted as a feature film by the same name in 2002, and a serialised radio play that ran from 2011–2012 on BBC Radio 4. In 2005 Time Magazine included the novel in its list of 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1] In 2003 the novel was listed on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.[2]

Who should read this:

  • Literary enthusiasts: If you want an insight into how the academia works (or worked). Or want a peek into the life of people who made reading stuff their career (sigh)
  • If you are ticking off the Booker bucket list
  • If you seriously are the type for whom good english is a turn on 😉

 

Who should not read this:

  • Unseasoned readers: If you are still trying to build a reading habit, this one is going to put you off for ever. Give yourself at least 5 years to get used to novels before you reach for this one.
  • If you are looking for ‘romance’ as in girl loves boy and they kiss and ‘make love’ and live happily ever after – this isn’t that kind of a book. Move on.

Thanks for reading!

Why I Don’t Watch Movies

Every time I tell anyone that I don’t really watch movies, I get stared at as if I am an extraterrestrial creature, or perhaps a malnourished puppy.  As if it isn’t the rest of the world that should be judged for adhering so strictly, and pointlessly, to a social construct purely designed to suck the hard earned money out of you.

Not belittling any one who loves going to the movies, here are some of the reasons I have.

  1. Dress code: Last time I went to a theatre, people were so dressed up, you’d half expect them to pop up on the silver screen. As far as I understand, watching a movie needs you to sit in a dark hall, and all the heads are pointed to the big screen. So who am I wearing my perfectly winged eyeliner for? Especially considering that those ladies up on the screen spend their life and fortunes on looking good, I am going to be looking like Grinch anyway!
  2. Imperfect Casting: Have you seen a nerd girl on screen? Have you seen one in real life? Need I say more? See, when J.K. Rowling said Hermione had bushy hair, and large front teeth – My mind conjured up an well built, dusky skinned girl with actual bushy hair, and large front teeth and even some facial hair. Sure as hell, she didn’t have to be Emma Watson-pretty to be taken seriously by the two boys.
  3. Unrealistic Body Image Goals: Girls do not have gravity-defying breasts that point at the ceiling when we sleep. Nor is our hair arranged in perfect ringlets when we put our head on the pillow. The only times you see women in lead roles having a healthy BMI is when the story itself revolves around their weight. I ll tell you what. Thick waist lines are a way of life, it is the thin ones that have elaborate stories of gyms, diets and surgeries. So when your lead lady is clearly anorexic, how come the movie never refers to the eating disorder?
  4. Prices: I could buy a book, maybe even 2-3 books at the price of one movie ticket. Movie lasts about 2-3 hours? Books engage you for days to weeks, and sometimes even a month. And you don’t have to pay again to watch it again. And nobody tries to sell you overpriced popcorn and coke.
  5. Too Mainstream: Everyone watches it, and has an opinion. From professional critics to the guy who doesn’t know an M about making movies. Everyone is posting reviews, and there’s already too much peer pressure and media coverage before I actually get to the movie. The thing with books is that even among the most voracious readers, the probability of two people having read the same books is quite low. And if you have a similar taste in books, you are soulmates. A book does have to be really, really good to become popular.. so usually you know when to make an investment and still experience the thrill of discovering the true story.
  6. Comfort of my bed vs movie seats: Even ‘Gold Class’ tickets give you as much leg space as an economy flight, and you haven’t got pretty people serving you  any wine. You can not go to the movies without your bra and pants. And they don’t let you take your own Maggi noodles, or even your teddy bear. They don’t give you ten pillows, and they don’t pause the movie if you need to pee.

I rest my case.

Waking Up at 6.. For Fiction

For the past sometime now, I have been trying to turn myself into an early riser. Needless to say, I have been failing terribly. The idea was to wake up and get some studying done before I head to office.

I have a lovely 11-6 workshift, and my office is at comfortable distance, so I tend to sleep in even on weekdays. But I wish to get so much else done, and waking up at 6 am seems such a romantic idea. 
Till the alarm bell starts to ring, of course. And at that moment I would trade the whole world to get an extra hour of sleep. My sleepy self is an expert at one thing: Figuring out how to switch off the alarm, no matter how complicated the alarm is.
I even got one of those apps where you have to type in a long sentence to stop the alarm. But in my sleep, I figured out how to switch that off and go right back to sleep. (Hit snooze, go to the app, turn the damned thing off)
Some days I did wake up. I would start scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, till my eyes rolled back into the lids, and started dreaming about all the wonderful (and useless, and depressing) things I had just seen.
Today was another such day. I woke up, but for the life of me could not motivate myself to get up and pick my textbook. For a long time I just lay there, scrolling through Instagram. I almost went right back to sleep. 
And then I told myself, “Hey, how about you just wake up, make some coffee and read?”
Hmm. 
So, yup. I made some coffee and for the past two blissful hours gave myself up to A.S Byatt’s Possession.
The first thing I realised is that even though I am just having instant coffee, somehow making it yourself makes a whole lot of difference. Everyday I wake up to a coffee my dad makes for me (bless his soul). But usually it sits by my bed for half an hour before I finally wake up, and it’s cold and feels stale by then. Also, I guess the sound of boiling water and the first whiff of coffee while you are making it, is what really enhances the experience.
Second, I guess the best way to wake up early is to really start by doing what you love. I suppose I should probably make this statement only if I am able to sustain this habit, but it does feel like something I can do. Two hours of uninterrupted reading, then some blogging, and coffee.
If nothing else, at least I ll end up finishing novels faster. And I guess once I built the habit, I will at some point be able to wake up to study in the morning.
Third, I love this early morning ‘me time’. Fresh mind, a lot of introspection. Getting a sense of what awaits you for the day.

And some time to read the newspaper because I really should and I really don’t.
Anyway my parents are up now. Dad came to ask what is the matter, why (the eff) are you reading a novel right now? Just shook my head and said nothing. I guess he took a little offence and went of for his walk. 
Ma just woke up and tried to peek into my laptop. Oops, dad is back from his walk so I am gonna go now 😀

Why I am probably going to fail at blogging..

  1. My graphic skills are rock bottom. I am not good at taking pictures, or even selecting ‘good’ pictures. So the idea of having visually appealing graphics does not work at me. Maybe sometimes I ll throw in a shaky, blurry, under/overexposed image into my posts. People will look, cringe and never return.
  2. I am still more comfortable with pen and paper. When I write online, I lose my train of thought, and pretty soon, my interest.
  3. I am the Queen of Procrasti-Nation. Why do something now if it can be done sometime later? Or never. Everything else is always more important than the current task at hand. Even staring at the wall.
  4. I am easily discouraged. Getting no validation? You are probably not good enough, you should go kill yourself. Okay, at least you should stop trying so hard.
  5. I have got my feet in too many boats. I am a full time journalist,  a  part time theatre artist, a part time pursuer of a Master’s degree, a newbie blogger. Needless to say, I fail trying to keep up with most.
  6. I am shy. That means I can’t market myself. Or I have to run away and hide if too many people start reading my stuff.
  7. I am ruled by hormones. I have these mid month spurts of hormones that make me hyper motivated to go get everything out there. I make business models, I email people for interviews, I sign up for kickboxing classes. And a week later BAM! Bitch Aunt Flo hits, and I am down in the dumps telling myself that I cannot possibly spend my entire office shift sitting on the toilet seat.
  8. Why write about books when you can read them instead? Obviously right? I mean in the time I spent here, I could have read at least five more pages of my current read, which I have been struggling to finish for almost a month now.
  9. Social Media. Yes it sucks. I say that even as I write here. Because as soon as I am done publishing this I am going to be looking at other’s posts and sooner or later I am going to end up on Facebook or YouTube, looking at Dhinchak Pooja’s ‘music’ videos.
  10. It is always easier to not do something, than to fail. Trolling is so easy, facing it is not. Social media easily means being sitting ducks to a thousand trolls. And who is not afraid of failure?

From Borrowing to Buying…

My adventures into the never ending world of fiction began at a humble local library. It was when I began to pester my mother to buy me new books that she got me a membership. I must say that I spend some of my most memorable evenings there, in a hot musty corner between dusty shelves.

There were no ACs there. Rather than pin drop silence, you could here a peculiar twanging noise of a very old ceiling fan, and whirring and slushing of a bulky water cooler that was pointed at the librarian. It wasn’t exactly the kind of place where you would feel welcome, the staff was rude and disinterested – and only the intense love for books attracted people to that place.

For a shy kid like me, nothing could be better. I was terrified of people and even if I did run into someone I knew, they couldn’t just come and strike a conversation there.

The thing about reading library books is that since you have a deadline, you tend to finish the book within that stipulated time. And so, for me it meant reading at least one book every two weeks.

Unfortunately, childhood summers do not last forever. From reading for entire evenings and weekends, I have had to curb my reading time to just about the time I take to travel to work and back – and that’s barely half an hour each side.

Libraries hence don’t make sense anymore because there is no way I can finish a book that quick. Ever since I started earning, I have instead starting building my own collection. Having your own copy of a book is a much greater joy.

You can get attached to it in your own unique way. I like writing a little note on the first page of the books I buy, to commemorate the occasion or randomness with which it was bought. That way my library itself tells a story.

Unlike library books, they stay with you and age with you.

Of course, also unlike library books, they burn a hole into your pocket. However, most book hoarders have their tricks and hacks, and perhaps soon I ll do a whole new post on just that.

Another major problem is space. I hate the idea of ebooks, and I am pretty much out of space – with books stuffed into my office drawers as well. Buying a bookshelf has been on my mind for a while. I would have by now, if I wasn’t broke from buying books all the time.

But a place over flowing with novels is exactly the thing of my dreams – and I feel glad that I might slowly be inching towards it.

The Pilot

There is a bug in my brain. A constant nagging. It asks me to write.

And then there is my lazy, lazy ass. That tells me that life is so comfortable with my job, my books and my coffee.

Today, however, is the day that I set my bug free. I don’t have a structure of what this blog is going to about – although I do have a rough, hazy plan.

I attempt to discover myself  through my deep engagement with fiction.

I plan to document my journey as I devour my ever growing TBR pile, perhaps on the way give you some bookish tips on how to satiate the bookworm in you.

I am hoping to meet bibliophiles from around the world too (through this screen of course – Introvert Alert!!) and learn more about must reads from around the world.

If you have suggestions of topics I could write on, book recommendations, or just want to say hello drop me an email at bookembee@gmail.com

You can also drop a line on my Facebook Page Book ‘Em Bee (https://www.facebook.com/bookembee/) or Instagram (@bookembee).