Monkton Mondays!

It’s been a mixed weekend. Spent the first half of International Women’s Day in School at the PTM with Junior. All was well except that I was down with one of those inexplicable attacks of the common cold – you know the ones where you were perfectly fine the day before (or so you thought!) but woke up to a hundred sneezes? Yup! That’s the one! Well, Mom had to be on duty, cold or no cold, predictably; and so she was, again – predictably. Dad was…lets just not go there shall we? Wouldn’t want to begin the first post for the week with a rant against husbands. So passé n’est pas?!

Junior has found his footing in school, more or less. He’s happy to go, happy to learn and generally happy for the most part 🙂 Fingers crossed for Grade 1 in August! The second half of Saturday I spent ‘zonked out’ in bed. There is no better term to describe it, I promise! It was the sleep of the afflicted and it was restorative to say the least. Woke for an hour around dinnertime, when Hubby redeemed himself a tad by taking the Munchkin and himself out to dinner and bringing me back some Pepperoni Pizza. And before you jump down my throat saying Pizza is not appropriate nutrition for the afflicted; let me jump right down yours and say IT IS 😛 Proof lies in the fact that I felt much recovered on Sunday and was able to attend my first Sunday Soul Sante – a Bangalore institution of sorts I imagine, a fiesta of arts & crafts supplemented with the requisite food stalls, fashion show and live music 😀 The traffic was killing but luckily the venue was practically in our backyard, and I had fun wandering around with Junior, discovering little treasures, for an hour or so. That’s my limit in a crowd that size…longer is unthinkable!

I don’t know whether this is a part of growing older too (so much of what I feel and experience seems to be), but routine weekdays are now ‘easier’ than planning weekends 😛 This morning for example, I must confess to feeling a disproportionate elation on the arrival of Monday 😉 Perhaps the fact that I look forward to writing this post and a new theme in my Photgraphy Challenge has a little something to do with? Possibly…whatever the reasons, it feels good to be alone, in a silent house and able to write; able to think. Also I’m happy to report the number of sneezes is down to 10 🙂 and that I have finished my latest Julian Barnes book, Levels of Life, which has reinforced my love of his writing manyfold. He writes about grief (don’t they all?!), but he weaves magic with his insight into ‘grief’ and ‘the mourning process’ as he sees it, so that in the end it doesn’t leave me feeling as depressed as I expected it would. As always he tells not a conventional story – that is not his way – this reads more like a philosophical essay perhaps – I’m unsure of where and how to slot it, which for me is part of its allure.

Through ballooning and photography, and the journeys of three fascinating real-life characters (completely and utterly unknown to me), who are ‘put together’ and ‘torn apart again’, he explores the mysteries of the human heart and mind and weaves his way to the story of his own grief, his own journey, his own process. All this is in 118 pages! Along the way, he taught me a few new words too, ‘divagations’, ‘recidivism’, ‘solipsism’…words that I had to look up and that are now happily a part of my consciousness. Every thought he offers, every feeling he feels, felt real and resonated with forceful impact, no doubt because of the loss of my own brother 5 years ago. I identify on a gut level where he’s coming from. No explanations required. Needless to say I’m in complete agreement with one of the judges who awarded him the 2011 Man Booker Prize, who called him ‘an unparalleled magus of the heart’. I don’t know of a better way to describe his writing 🙂

And so to Mr. Monkton – I must confess I’d almost forgotten him in my Barnes soliloquy 😛 but not quite! What with Women’s Day (although everyday is Women’s Day in my book!), and finishing this book which may be obviously about grief but is just as obviously about love, I think this thought of Mr. Monkton says it all. I’ve always thought that we women never do as good a job of loving ourselves and other women as much as we do with the men and children in our lives. And I firmly believe that’s it’s the only way forward! So here’s to self-love without which I believe there can be no form of lasting love at all.


Love Yourself People! You’re WORTH it! 

And then…Pass it On 🙂

Happy Monday!

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

So, I’m finally done with my second Booker winner this year, the first being The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, 2011 Man Booker Prize Winner and a much easier read! This one is many things, but easy is not one of them! I haven’t rated this book and I don’t think I will, because frankly I can’t make up my mind whether I like it or not! Doesn’t happen too often, although these days it’s been happening more often than before. Perhaps that reflects a better choice in literature? Or perhaps a deeper insight while reading? Or just a keener sense of self? Who knows? Who cares? I think I’m beginning to channel Jacobson 😛 Think like him or worse feel like Treslove! Why use one word when you can use several dictionaries? Why stop at one question when there’s a whole smorgasbord waiting to be sampled? So back to the rating question, there were times when I liked it, for the humor, for the originality of thought for the language, and times when I just wanted to stop reading from frustration at the repetition of thought and ideas and the wordiness, oh the wordiness! But I’ve promised myself that this is my Booker year…am attempting to tackle that side of literature that I generally avoid because I think I’m not going to get it, it’ll be too difficult, too elite, too everything! So I persevered. This book is one of those for me – it requires perseverance and patience – neither my forte when it comes to books nor life for that matter 😛

Anyway, moving on to the book itself, a story of three friends, two ‘real’ Jews and one ‘aspiring’, two widowers and one ‘aspiring’, two ‘sane’ and one ‘aspiring’. Let me explain. Libor and Finkler are ‘widowers’, united in their loss of wives. Treslove excluded from this macabre club that he longs to belong to, and indeed seems the most logical member given his approach to life and women…”He no sooner saw the woman than he saw the aftermath of her…”. Never married and always left behind, seeing a tragedy at the beginning of every love-story, living the title of the ‘eternal widower’! Again, of Libor, Finkler and Treslove, it’s fairly obvious as to who are the two ‘real’ Jews, at least by birth and sentiment if not choice. Libor and Finkler appear secure in their ‘Jewishness’ (whatever that means, and at the best of times it means many things, like it does with every race. Jews aren’t unique in their idiosyncrasies, although their idiosyncrasies are unique to them!), although appearances are as always deceptive. Treslove on the other hand is like an echo of a Jew, distant and hollow, trying to learn how to be one by incessant questioning and observations from which he invariably reaches the wrong conclusion every time. He was rather endearing initially albeit maudlin, because his questions were mine, his thoughts were mine, but then, began to grate on my nerves as I learned my lessons and he seemed to ignore his! Perhaps he never really wanted to, which is what I suspected from the beginning. This book has me confused as you can see (is that the sign of a good book?), and confusion makes me ‘wordy’, so please forgive me, I know not what I do…like Treslove, I haven’t a clue! Well rating or no rating, its obvious this book has got under my skin in a big way.

I’m not a Jew, and I don’t personally know anyone that is, living as I do in the largely Jewless (to my knowledge) state of Goa, India. But the questions in the book intrigued me in that they are applicable to every faith, and consequently every human. What does it mean to be a ________? (Pick a Faith, a gender, a class, a nationality, a profession!). That’s the central question in the book, from which all others originate, unto which all others congregate. A question that in my opinion has many answers, none of which are wrong and all of which are the sum of several differing lines of thought. Treslove however is not satisfied with any of them. He remains until the end, unable to make sense of the different answers presented to him by Libor, by Finkler, by the Hunoesque Hephzibah – and that to me was disappointing. He insisted on staying juvenile while I willed him to grow up and that irritated me! Still I do recognize his type, and I don’t have much patience with them in life either. Perhaps it’s my failing rather than theirs. They seem happy enough in their own context. See, didn’t I say – confused!

I’ve known people like Treslove, who seem content in their sadness, indeed who seem more at home in it, who seem to choose it and embrace it, like I would never do (Mom is one of them). I don’t get it – it angers and disappoints me. I’m essentially a ‘happy’ person and yes probably more judgmental than I thought! Perhaps that was another reason I wanted to get a hold of Treslove and shake him, much like his mugger did, make him see that happiness is available too, it’s a choice too, like he discovered ever so briefly with Hephzibah before getting into the self-sabotage act. Why didn’t he get it? Is it so difficult? Why is self-doubt so much easier than self-belief? See…more questions! I’ve been wondering as I type, whether I have a favourite character at all. Hephzibah is a front runner for the title. She’s spunky and identifiable with, the most ‘normal’ of the lot, in my opinion. Also she’s the only woman that matters, that’s alive in the book, which adds to her appeal 😛 I thought I liked Libor best but Finkler has grown on me. Let me put it this way – he’s my kind of crazy! I wish there had been more Tyler-Sam scenes, they’re brilliant! Tyler’s brilliant – sharp enough to cut men – physically, mentally and spiritually – and unafraid to use those edges! What a woman! Libor-Malkie in contrast were less appealing, perhaps because I thought them more conventional. I wasn’t too surprised with what happened to Libor, I’d seen it coming. It’s not that kind of book – if anything it’s predictable and characters stay true to their type, although I have hopes for Finkler’s evolution 😉

The language – I loved at times and at times the long hyphenated sentences had me tearing my hair out. And yet, who would think to compare the coming of dawn to a military coup? Bloody brilliant that! The book is full of clever one-liners that I’m not going to list here. There are too many and they are best read in context. So I guess you’ll just have to brave the book 😉 The ending, inasmuch as it can be called that, coz do such books (or should I say books that deal with such subjects), have an ending, is not entirely unexpected. But the last line of the book stays with me, and I quote,”There are no limits to Finkler’s mourning.” That I think is a brilliant beginning…for a whole other book! Clever that! And as I type, more questions come to mind – does the last line mean that Finkler is turning into his own kind of Treslove? If it does, what does that mean exactly? Did I really like this book or has it just irritated me into admiration with its cleverness, and wit and endless questions and existential angst? All that soul-searching and I still can’t say one way or another! But it has affected me and it will stay with me and I will recommend it to people who are unafraid of challenging reads and have bucket-loads of perseverance and patience, coz didn’t I say earlier? It’s that kind of book!

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

This is one that was short listed for the 2011 Booker eventually losing out to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

I picked it up because of its intriguing title and rather droll cover. Don’t you love a book with a great cover? It’s a good read, although at times the descriptive prose tended to excess. It took me a while to get used to the author’s style and her often abrupt prose. It suits the subject matter fine though which for the most part deals with sailors and their voyages. She’s cleverly woven a coming of age story into a sailing background, which is very reminiscent of Life of Pi. But while Life of Pi has a surreal quality to it, what with the charismatic Richard Parker, this book is firmly rooted in reality. And reality is so often ugly, an ugliness that Birch describes with vivid, if occasionally noisome attention to detail.

There are parts of the story which were extremely tough for me to read, softie that I am! The ship-wreck and its aftermath, the dragon hunt & escape, the whale-killing – all very graphic, disturbing and yet imbued with a strange and terrible beauty. The other parts I enjoyed, especially her character descriptions. The description of Jaffy’s early days, his drive, his ambition and his early naiveté were very endearing. His friendship with Tim and Ishbel, his joy at working at the Menagerie and the descriptions of the animals themselves along with the emotions they might have been feeling were spot on. It was easy to understand how young Jaffy was enamoured of the animals and especially the birds, because through her prose, the author made me fall in love with that rather seamy, chaotic place too. I could smell the smells and see the looks as it were!

I enjoyed the descriptions of ‘life-at-sea’ too. Birch paints pictures with her vivid prose. Descriptions are obviously her forte. So it’s easy to imagine a ship leaving harbour, peopled with seasoned sailors, their eyes wise & sorrowful, and young boys out for an adventure, eyes bright and unafraid, untouched and unclaimed as yet by the wily sea. Easy to see her pitching on the high seas as her crew struggle for survival and battle the ocean in all its fury. And easier still to watch her anchored in a calm harbour where the beaches are lined with palm trees and where at last land offers respite, refuge and recreation. Especially loved the description of three hurricanes that dance on the water before all hell breaks loose and a definitive scene early on in the book that I’ll simply call ‘Jaffy & the Tiger’! Brilliant stuff!

But it’s not all about the descriptions, there’s a story here too, of love and friendship, of courage and sacrifice, of leaving and being left behind, of forgiving and being forgiven, of humanity and animals and whether they are as different as we like to think. I was a little confused by the choice of title, especially when the said Menagerie is absent for a good part of the story, until I realized that this is indeed a Menagerie, literally of animals and symbolically of humans, all thrown together by fate and circumstance to get along as best they can or die trying.

Although I cannot but help compare it to Life of Pi, which was for me an easier read and remains my favourite book on a similar subject, Jamrach’s Menagerie is absorbing, intelligent and thought-provoking. In short it’s everything a great read should be!

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending

I read this book on a recommendation from a friend and like her, I couldn’t put it down. It made me give up my Sunday afternoon siesta which is saying a lot!

There are so many things I love about this book that’s it’s hard to know where to begin. Let me begin then with the cover which I loved for it’s artistry before I began to read, and for it’s aptness after I finished! You’ll just have to read the book to understand 🙂 Loved the first paragraph and most especially the last line. Loved the author’s way with words, the way he uses them to breathe new life into well established ancient truths…”We live in time – it hold us and moulds us…and yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.” How beautifully stated, how true, how terrible.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that describes the human condition and relationships in quite this way before. The ease with which Barnes describes an average, everyday life, such as most of us might hope to live, even strive towards, like Tony does, carefully, cautiously and willfully, is at once exemplary and frightening. It’s the same way he describes memory and human remembrances and their mutability. “I must get out there and ‘do’ something, ‘make something happen’ before Life passes me by,” is the thought that resonates in me when I finish.

Most of the characters in the book are left deliberately ambiguous (or at least that’s how I felt), except to an extent, Tony’s, and yet Barnes manages to sketch a clear picture of them at decisive moments in the narrative through clever dialogue and more often through Tony’s introspection and memories of events. A formidable skill! Tony, Veronica and Adrian, a trio of unforgettable characters that will stay with me for a long time. After reading The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine just yesterday, it’s feels wonderful to have found two books that have become favorites in two days! Or is it?! 

A must read!!