Where I, a person with no legitimate literary qualifications, pass my judgement on books I read.
Written by A.S. Byatt
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. In 2003 the novel was listed on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.
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.