I bring you the review of one of the books that won the Booker Prize in 2019. I hope to read Atwood’s novel as well at some point.
Girl, Woman, Other: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo
BRITISH BOOK AWARDS AUTHOR & FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019
THE SUNDAY TIMES 1# BESTSELLER
‘The most absorbing book I read all year.’ Roxane Gay
This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.
From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . . ____________________________
‘[Bernardine Evaristo] is one of the very best that we have’ Nikesh Shukla on Twitter
‘A choral love song to black womanhood in modern Great Britain’Elle
‘Beautifully interwoven stories of identity, race, womanhood, and the realities of modern Britain. The characters are so vivid, the writing is beautiful and it brims with humanity’ Nicola Sturgeon on Twitter
‘Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life’ Ali Smith, author of How to be both
‘Exceptional. You have to order it right now’ Stylist
Award-winning British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the author of seven books. She is also an editor, critic, dramatist and essayist. Her writing spans the genres of prose novels, verse-novels, a novel-with-verse, a novella, poetry, non-fiction, literary criticism and radio and theatre drama. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, is about a 74 yr old Caribbean London man who is closet homosexual (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2013 & Akashic Books, USA, 2014). Her writing is characterised by experimentation, daring and subverting the myths of various Afro-diasporic histories and identities. She has published widely in a variety of publications and anthologies.
Her books are: MR LOVERMAN (Penguin, 2013), HELLO MUM (Penguin 2010), LARA (Bloodaxe 2009), BLONDE ROOTS (Penguin 2008), SOUL TOURISTS (Penguin 2005), THE EMPEROR’S BABE (Penguin 2001), the first version of LARA (ARP 1997), ISLAND OF ABRAHAM (Peepal Tree, 1994). For more information visit BOOKS.
Her awards include a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, EMMA Best Book Award, Big Red Read, Orange Youth Panel Award, NESTA Fellowship Award and an Arts Council Writer’s Award. Her books have been a ‘Book of the Year’ thirteen times in British newspapers and magazines and The Emperor’s Babe was a (London) Times ‘Book of the Decade’. Hello Mum has been chosen as one of twenty titles for World Book Night in 2014. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, and she received an MBE in 2009.
Her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013 and her novella Hello Mum was broadcast as a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012. Her new novel Mr Loverman was optioned by BBC television drama in 2014.
She is co-editor of two recent anthologies and a special issue of Wasafiri magazine: BlackBritain: Beyond Definition, which celebrated and reevaluated the black writing scene in Britain. In 2012 she was guest editor of the winter issue of Poetry Review, Britain’s leading poetry journal, in its centenary year. Her issue, Offending Frequencies, featured more poets of colour than had ever previously been published in a single issue of the journal, as well as many female, radical, experimental and outspoken voices. She is guest-editing the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine.
Her literary criticism appears in the national newspapers such as the Guardian and Independent and she has judged many literary awards.
Bernardine’s books have been translated into several languages including Mandarin.
Personal: Bernardine Evaristo was born in Woolwich, south east London, the fourth of eight children, to an English mother and Nigerian father. Her father was a welder and local Labour councillor and her mother a school teacher. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned a PhD in Creative Writing. She spent her teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre.
She lives in London with her husband.
I thank Penguin UK and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
My list of books to read has grown so long that sometimes I’m surprised when I realise some titles I’ve wanted to read for a while had been quietly waiting on my e-reader, and I’d completely lost track of them. This is one of them. I kept reading comments and reviews and thinking I had to read it once I got a copy, and I finally realised I had it already. Oh, well, a nice surprise for a change in a year that hasn’t had many.
I’ve never read any books by Evaristo before, although she’s been writing for quite a while and has become well-known and, judging by this book, deservedly so.
Although brief, the official book description gives a good idea of the content. There isn’t a plot in the traditional sense, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, some reviewers have complained that this is not a novel, but rather a collection of twelve biographical notes, and they didn’t feel connected to any of the characters, as none of their stories were explored in detail. It is true that the book is a catalogue of the multi-faceted experience of British women from diverse ethnic backgrounds, social classes, locations (from the most rural to London and beyond), educational levels, professions, gender identities, politics, sexual interests, tastes… But rather than being true biographies (of fictional biographies), these are no stories told objectively from an outsider’s point of view. Although written in the third-person (the writing style is very special as well), we get each of these women’s stories from their own point of view, at least in their own chapter. The book is divided into 4 parts, each telling three stories that appear connected, as they are often the stories of relatives or close friends, sometimes going back several generations. The beauty of the way the book is constructed is that, as we keep reading, we come to realise that a lot of these women’s lives have intersected at some point or other, and that gives us also an outsider’s perspective on what they are like, or, rather, how they appear to others and what others think of them. Sometimes there is a huge gap between the two, but I found it difficult not to empathise with these women after seeing their lives through their own eyes, even when I might have nothing in common with some of them. When you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, it’s easier to understand who they are and to feel sorry when others dismiss them, misunderstand them, or even openly dislike them. Of course, I liked some characters more than others, but I was interested in their experiences, even those of the women I would never want as my friends.
As you can imagine from the above, the book deals in many important issues: race, gender, political views, aging, social changes, family relationships, identity in its many facets, prejudice, sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse … The risk Evaristo runs in trying to cover such wide and numerous topics is to end up skimming over all of them and never getting into the nitty-gritty of anything. That might be true, but I see this book as a celebration of uniqueness and self-definition, rather than as an in-depth exploration of one single issue. We are not just one thing to the exclusion of everything else. We aren’t only daughters or only British, or only writers, or only adopted or only heterosexual… This book illustrates the multiple possibilities, the many combinations, and the complexity of womanhood (and humanity).
The author is well-known for her poetry, and she has called the style she uses in this book “fusion fiction” a form of rather fluid prose poetry, with no capital letters at the beginning of the sentence and no full stops to mark the end of a sentence. The lack of adherence to grammar rules has bothered quite a number of readers, who found it difficult to get used to, distracting, or pretentious. I was surprised at first, and more than once I had to go back to make sure I had got the right end of the conversation, but it seemed to work well with the text-to-speech option I often use (it adapted well to the natural reading rhythm), and I suspect the same might be the case for the audiobook version. I normally recommend that readers check a sample of a book when I think the writing style might not be to everybody’s liking, and this is a case in point. If you’re thinking about purchasing it, have a look first. (I am not sharing quotes because mine was an ARC copy and any quote would need to be fairly long to give any idea of what the reading experience might be like).
There is an epilogue at the very end of the book, which I wouldn’t call a twist, but it does put an interesting spin on some of the stories. If the idea that we are all connected somehow seems to flow through the whole book, the epilogue closes the circle. (I enjoyed it, although if this was a mystery, I’d say that I’d guessed what was likely to happen well before the last page).
I recommend this novel to readers who like to explore diverse characters and alternative voices, particularly in a UK setting; to those who like to experiment different writing styles, unusual formats, and unconventional stories. And those who enjoy reading poetry should check it out as well. Some of the topics covered are quite hard and bound to be upsetting, even when not discussed in too much graphic detail, so caution is advised. I will keep track of Evaristo from now on, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.
Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin UK and to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe.
As you know, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the novels that have made the Man Booker Longlist this year. My only criterion is that I had the novels waiting to be read already, and here comes another one (that I was very curious about because, although I’d always wanted to read The God of Small Things, so far I have never quite got around it. I am sure I will now.
New York Times Best Seller
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
A dazzling, richly moving new novel by the internationally celebrated author of The God of Small Things The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent—from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war.
It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love—and by hope.
The tale begins with Anjum—who used to be Aftab—unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her—including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.
As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.
An Amazon Best Book of June 2017: To read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is to immerse yourself in years of India’s religious, political, and cultural changes and to feel it all through the narrative of an incredible cast of characters. What becomes apparent throughout their individual stories is that power and belief are malleable, that suffering does not end but merely changes hands, and what is revered can easily become reviled. The latter shows up most clearly for Anjum, formerly Aftab, who becomes a famous Hijra in Delhi, only to later find herself keeper of a graveyard sanctum for others who are no longer welcome in the new society. Yes, there is a lot of violence and heartbreak in this novel, but Roy also suffuses it with humor, irony, and –more than anything– the ability of love and acceptance to heal the broken. Even when, or perhaps, especially when, it comes from places one would never expect. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is complex and compassionate, and the heart and soul that Arundhati Roy so obviously gave to it is worth every one of the many years it’s taken to give us another fictional masterpiece. –Seira Wilson, The Amazon Book Review
“A fiercely unforgettable novel…a love story with characters so heartbreaking and compelling they sear themselves into the reader’s brain.” –Patty Rhule, USA TODAY
“Moving. . . powerful. . .The kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve lived several times over. [It] contains so much of everything: anguish and joy and love and war and death and life, so much of being human. Ministry rip[s] open the world to show us everything that is dazzlingly beautiful and brutally ugly about it…Roy centers the vulnerable and the unseen, making clear that love is the only way for individuals to really meet across the borders of skin or country. Everything is alive in Ministry, from emotions to people to the country itself. It is this aliveness of every human as well as every animal and thing that makes this novel so remarkable. Ministry is the ultimate love letter to the richness and complexity of India—and the world—in all its hurly-burly, glorious, and threatened heterogeneity. Roy is a treasure of India and of the world.” –Anita Felicelli, LA Review of Books
“A deeply rewarding work… Roy writes with unabashed beauty…Images in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness wedge themselves in the mind like memories of lived experience.” –Laura Miller, Slate
“Stirring. . . humane and impassioned . . . beautiful and rich. The novel has the feel of a yarn…Roy’s observations unspool as vivid and gimlet, whether she is describing personal catastrophe or national disasters…Brilliant writing—an ambitious story with a profound moral integrity and a deep emotional impact. ”–Kathleen Rooney, Chicago Tribune
“Epic in scope, sharply realized. . . an engaged story, with many threads, that blends tragedy and political outrage with a humane and hopeful vision of the future…The Ministry of Utmost Happiness place[s] Roy at the forefront of Indian literature.” –Gregory McNamee, Kirkus Reviews
“Dazzling. . . expansive, touching . . . a novel teeming with indelible characters. Roy shifts places, time periods, and viewpoints with the grace of a master choreographer…Ministry is a beautifully written, powerful story [that] spans a continent and several decades of war and peace and people who live in places and on the streets, as well as undercover and underground—a novel that’s worth the wait. Once again, Arundhati Roy has told a real story.” –Renee H. Shea, Poets & Writers (cover story)
*“Brilliant. . . well worth the wait. Roy looks unflinchingly at poverty, human cruelty, and the absurdities of modern war; somehow, she turns it into poetry. Highly recommended.” –Kate Gray, Library Journal, (starred review)
“Roy’s novel will be the unmissable literary read of the summer. With its insights into human nature, its memorable characters and its luscious prose, Ministry is well worth the wait.” –Sarah Begley, TIME
“Propulsive, playful . . . this new book finds Roy the artist prospering with stories, and writing in gorgeous, supple prose. Again and again beautiful images refresh our sense of the world. Sections of the book filled me with awe—not just as a reader, but as a novelist—for the sheer fidelity and beauty of detail—a terrific novelistic noticing. Roy writes with astonishing vividness.” –Karan Mahajan, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“Fearless . . . staggeringly beautiful—a fierce, fabulously disobedient novel . . . so fully realized it feels intimate, yet vibrates with the tragicomedy of myth . . . Roy is writing at the height of her powers. Once a decade, if we are lucky, a novel emerges from the cinder pit of living that asks the urgent question of our global era. Roy’s novel is this decade’s ecstatic and necessary answer.” –John Freeman, The Boston Globe
“Magisterial, vibrant . . . Roy’s second novel works its empathetic magic upon a breathtakingly broad slate—inviting us to stand with characters who refuse to be stigmatized or cast aside.” –Liesel Schillinger, O, The Oprah Magazine
“A gem—a great tempest of a novel: a remarkable creation, a story both intimate and international . . . Here is writing that swirls so hypnotically it doesn’t feel like words on paper so much as ink on water. This vast novel will leave you awed by the heat of its anger and the depth of its compassion.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Compelling . . . musical and beautifully orchestrated. Roy’s depiction of furtive romance has a cinematic quality, as well as genuine poignancy and depth of emotion. Her gift is for the personal: for poetic description [and an] ability to map the complicated arithmetic of love and belonging . . . Ministry manages to extract hope from tragedies witnessed.” –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Powerful and moving . . . reminds us what fiction can do. Roy’s exquisite prose is [a] rare instrument. She captures the horrors of headlines, and the quiet moments when lovers share poems and dreams. Ministry is infused with so much passion that it vibrates. It may leave you shaking, too. Roy’s is a world in which love and hope sprout against all odds, like flowers pushing through cracked pavement.” –Heller McAlpin, San Francisco Chronicle
“Glorious . . . remarkable, colorful and compelling . . . Roy has a passionate following, and her admirers will not be disappointed. This ambitious new novel, like its predecessor, addresses weighty themes in an intermittently playful narrative voice. You will [be] granted a powerful sense of the complexity, energy and diversity of contemporary India, in which darkness and exuberant vitality and inextricable intertwined.” —Claire Messud, The Financial Times
“A lustrously braided and populated tale woven with ribbons of identity, love, mourning, and joy—and tied together with yellow mangoes, cigarettes, and damask roses.” —Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair
“If you want to know the world behind out corporate-sponsored dreamscapes, you read writers like Arundhati Roy. She shows you what’s really going on.” —Junot Diaz, in Vogue
“Ministry is the follow-up we’ve been longing for—a poetic, densely populated contemporary novel in the tradition of Dickens and Tolstoy. From its beginning, one is swept up in the story. If The God of Small Things was a lushly imagined, intimate family novel slashed through with politics, Ministry encompasses wildly different economic, religious, and cultural realms across the Indian subcontinent and as far away as Iraq and California. Animating it is a kaleidoscopic variety of bohemians, revolutionaries, and lovers…With her exquisite and dynamic storytelling, Roy balances scenes of suffering and corruption with flashes of humor, giddiness, and even transcendence.” —Daphne Beal, Vogue
“Affecting . . . A rangy and roving novel of multiple voices; an intimate picture of a diverse cast of characters…We see in detail not only their everyday lives but also their beliefs, and the contexts that inform their actions…Tilo is the book’s beating heart, a beautiful and rebellious woman and a magical focal point toward which all desire in the novel flows. Roy’s instinct for satire is as sharp as ever, and her stories build to a broader portrait of India over the past few decades. Roy’s sentences are marked by an eloquence even as they string together various ideas and elements. Her prose is in this sense radically democratic. And her unmistakable style and her way of seeing the world become something larger, too.” —Amitava Kumar, BookForum
“Roy returns to fiction with tales that span from the mourned in a graveyard to the beating hearts of the people of Delhi, masterfully conveying the wide-ranging perseverance of the human soul.” —Steph Opitz, Marie Claire
“It’s finally here! Fans of The God of Small Things have been waiting for Roy’s next novel, and it doesn’t disappoint. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is big, both in physical heft and in ideas. It features an unforgettable cast of characters from across India whose stories are told with generosity and compassion. The novel’s greatest feat is showing the ways in which religious belief, gender identity, and even our safety in the world, are not fixed—they have as much fluidity as Roy’s astute plotting.” —Maris Kreizman, Vulture Summer Books Preview
“Stunning— a feat of storytelling . . . Roy’s lyrical sentences, and the ferocity of her narrative, are a wonder to behold. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness [is] a celebration.” —Zak M. Salih, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The first novel in 20 years from Roy, and worth the wait: a humane, engaged near fairy tale that soon turns dark—full of characters and their meetings, accidental and orchestrated alike to find, yes, that utmost happiness of which the title speaks.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Ambitious, original, and haunting . . . a novel [that] fuses tenderness and brutality, mythic resonance and the stuff of headlines . . .essential to Roy’s vision of a bewilderingly beautiful, contradictory, and broken world.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A masterpiece . . . Roy joins Dickens, Naipaul, García Márquez, and Rushdie in her abiding compassion, storytelling magic, and piquant wit…. A tale of suffering, sacrifice and transcendence—an entrancing, imaginative, and wrenching epic.” –Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“To say this book is ‘highly anticipated’ is a bit of an understatement. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness will be a welcome gift for those who’ve missed Roy’s dazzling fiction.” —Eliza Thompson, Cosmopolitan, “11 Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down This Summer”
“Her new novel is larger, more complicated, more multilingual, more challenging as a reading experience than The God of Small Things, and no less immersing. This intricately layered and passionate novel, studded with jokes and with horrors, has room for satire and romance, for rage and politics and for steely understatement. A work of extraordinary intricacy and grace.” —Gillian Beer, The Prospect (UK)
“As she did in “The God of Small Things,” Roy astutely unpacks the layers of politics and privilege inherent in caste, religion and gender identity. Her luminous passages span eras and regions of the Indian subcontinent and artfully weave the stories of several characters into a triumphant symphony, where strangers become friends, friends become family, and the disenfranchised find the strength to wrestle control of their own narratives.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“This is the novel one hoped Arundhati Roy would write about India. Satirical yet compassionate, it channels the spirit of the transgressive-mystical in subcontinental poetry rarely found in Indian-English writing.” —The Telegraph
“This book, only second from Roy’s stable in the last twenty years, retains the metaphorical music that she used to fair rapture in her first book. The descriptions, spring to live with her subtle touch, and she, almost, looks to have done that effortlessly.” —Times of India
“To read Roy is to build a sense of wonder, incrementally. To ask questions not of what we were seeing of late, but what we’ve been staring at the whole time… Love in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is harrowing, fragile and complicated and swears by sacrifice, but also – and Roy makes sure of this – love is unanticipated… The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is an example of Roy’s commitment to those who feel the riot inside of them. Who refuse to be ‘written out,’ who understand that the tiniest breach in history, like ‘a chuckle,’ of all things ‘could become a foothold in the sheer wall of the future.'” —The Globe and Mail
“The complex and ambitious plot set in Delhi centers on two women. One was born intersex and the other is a freedom fighter, but both are drawn to an abandoned infant. Questions of identity, gender, ethnicity, and religion make this a deep and richly satisfying read.” –The Christian Science Monitor
“From the fine-grained affection that stirs her imagination springs an ethical imperative—after all, how can one appreciate the world without desiring to defend it? And it must be defended not merely from war or political calamity, but from that natural, more insidious phenomenon: forgetting.” –Pahrul Segal, The Atlantic
“Arundhati Roy’s prose is always a joy to read.” –The Washington Times
“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a dazzling work of imagination – a tumult of vibrant characters, stories and prose that engages deeply with recent Indian history and the struggles of India’s oppressed peoples. To anyone who thought Roy was a one-hit wonder, the novel is a full-throated rebuttal…. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is an exhilarating read, one that reminds you what great fiction can accomplish.” –Newsday
“Arundhati Roy is an exceptionally gifted writer, the kind who will send you into a panic about how capitalism is chewing up the environment one moment, then sweep you away from those earthly concerns with whimsical, musical prose the next.”– Chatelaine
“This intimate epic about India over the past two decades is superb: political but never preachy; heartfelt yet ironic; precisely poetic.” –The Telegraph
“Fans of Arundhati Roy’s bestseller The God of Small Things will be delighted to find out that her new novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness occupies a similar place. This one is a sprawling story in the tradition of Charles Dickens about lovers and politics and religion and bad luck. Roy immerses you both in her intricate prose and in the subcontinent, from Kashmir to Delhi.” –Condé Nast Traveler
“The reader is immersed in a world brought to life with deft clarity…. Roy’s energy provides a platform for a story that is bursting with spirit.” –Noted
“If I were to send one book into outer space to send aliens a message about the human race, I would send this one. It is a magic Persian carpet of a book, with hundreds of interwoven tales within tales and colorful patterns reflecting the history of our human condition.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“As always, Roy’s brilliance shines most in her choice of locales and the imagery they invoke…. the novel’s brilliance lies in how it captures subtle moments, with attention to detail and sharp compassion.” –The Conversation
“Roy merges her energies as a fiction writer and an activist, shaping a rich narrative that’s as complex and multivalent as modern India…. There are plenty of moments of dazzling wording and surprising exchanges.” –Rigoberto Gonzalez, Los Angeles Times
“The … novel is an epic charged with Roy’s politics and written in dense, lyrical, singular prose…. All of which doesn’t go even halfway to conveying the depth of observation, humour, Dickensian detail, accumulating tales of city life, both awful and extraordinary – the cows grazing on refuse, a man who lives in a tree—that Roy discharges by the first hundred pages.” –Charlotte Sinclair, Vogue
“Arundhati writes along the edge of a kind of uncanny clairvoyance. She’s an all-seeing, mischief-making voodoo priestess.” –John Cusack
About the author:
Arundhati Roy is the author of a number of books, including The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997 and has been translated into more than forty languages. She was born in 1959 in Shillong, India, and studied architecture in Delhi, where she now lives. She has also written several non-fiction books, including Field Notes on Democracy, Walking with the Comrades, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, The End of Imagination, and most recently Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, co-authored with John Cusack. Roy is the recipient of the 2002 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize, the 2011 Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Writing, and the 2015 Ambedkar Sudar award.
Thanks to NetGalley and Hamish Hamilton (an imprint of Penguin Random House, UK) for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
This is not an easy novel to review. So far I’ve found that with all the novels longlisted for the Man Booker Prize that I’ve read so far. They all seem to defy easy categorisation.
I know the author’s first novel has many admirers and I always felt curious when I saw it (be it at the bookshop or the library) but as it was also a long novel I kept leaving it until I had more time. That was one of the reasons why I picked up this novel when I saw it on NetGalley. I thought it would be a good chance to read one of the author’s works (and I know she’s published more non-fiction than fiction), and I must admit I loved the title and the cover too.
As a starting point, I thought I’d share some of the fragments I highlighted as I read. Some because of the ideas expressed (that made me pause and think), some because of the author’s powers of description, some because they were funny, some beautiful…
I’m not Anjum, I’m Anjuman. I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everybody is invited. (This one I added at the end, when I reread the first chapter, that had intrigued me but at the time wasn’t sure exactly of who was narrating the story, or even if it was a who, a what, a ghost, a tree… Oh, and it reminds me so much of Walt Whitman’s “I contain multitudes”)
And she learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.
Then came Partition. God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred.
Saddam had a quick smile and eyelashes that looked as though they had worked out in a gym.
He spoke like a marionette. Only his lower jaw moved. Nothing else did. His bushy white eyebrows looked as though they were attached to his spectacles and not his face.
…a mustache as broad as the wingspan of a baby albatross…
When the sun grew hot, they returned indoors where they continued to float through their lives like a pair of astronauts, defying gravity, limited only by the outer walls of their fuchsia spaceship with its pale pistachio door.
Normality in our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence.
She walked through miles of city waste, a bright landfill of compacted plastic bags with an army of ragged children picking through it. The sky was a dark swirl of ravens and kites competing with the children, pigs and packs of dogs for the spoils.
These days in Kashmir, you can be killed for surviving.
In Kashmir when we wake up and say ‘Good Morning’ what we really mean is ‘Good Mourning’.
I think the first quotation (and one I mention later on), in some way, sums up the method of the novel. Yes, it is the story of Anjum, a transgender (well, actually intersex) Muslim woman from India who, from a very young age, decides to live her life her own way. She joins a group of transgender women (who’ve come from different places, some who’ve undergone operations and some not, some Christian, some Hindus, some Muslim, some young and some old…) but at some point life there becomes impossible for her and she takes her things and ends up living in a cemetery. Although she starts by sleeping between the tombs, eventually, with a little help from her friends, ends up building up a semblance of a house (that incorporates a grave or two in each room), where she offers room and boarding to people who also feel they don’t belong anywhere else. Her business expands to include offering burials to people rejected by the official church. But the story (yes, I know it sounds weird enough with what I’ve said) is not only Anjum’s story, the story of her childhood, her struggles, her desire to be a mother at any price, but also the story of many others. People from different castes, religions, regions, with different political alliances, professions, interests, beliefs… The story, told in the third person, also incorporates poems, articles, entries from a peculiar dictionary, songs, slogans, pamphlets, in English, Urdu, Kashmiri… The telling of the story is fragmented and to add to the confusion of characters, whose connection to the story is not clear at first, some of them take on different identities and are called by different names (and many difficult to differentiate if one is not conversant with the names typical of the different regions of India and Pakistan). Although most of the entries in other languages are translated into English, not all of them are (I must clarify I read an ARC copy, so it is possible that there have been some minor changes in the definite version, although from the reviews I’ve read they do not seem to be major if any at all), and I clearly understand why some people would find the reading experience frustrating. All of the fragments of stories were interesting in their own right, although at times I felt as if the novel was a patchwork quilt whose design hid a secret message I was missing because I did not have the necessary key to interpret the patterns.
The settings are brought to life by a mixture of lyricism, precise description, and an eye and an ear for the rhythms and the ebbs and flows of the seasons, the towns, and the populations; the characters are believable in their uniqueness, and also representative of all humanity, observed in minute detail, and somewhat easy to relate to, even though many of them might have very little to do with us and our everyday lives. But their love of taking action and of telling stories is universal.
There is a lot of content that is highly political about the situation in Kashmir, religious confrontations in India, conflicts in different regions, violence, corruption, class and caste issues, gender issues, much of it that seem to present the same arguments from different angles (all of the people who end up sharing Anjum’s peculiar abode are victims of the situation, be it due to their gender, their caste, their religion, their political opinions, and sometimes because of a combination of several of them) and I read quite a few reviews that suggested the novel would benefit from tougher editing. I am sure the novel would be much easier to read if it was thinned down, although I suspect that’s not what the author had in mind when she wrote it.
This is a challenging and ambitious novel that creates a kaleidoscopic image of India, an India made up of marginal characters, but perhaps truer than the “edited” versions we see in mass media. I have no expertise in the history or politics of the region so I cannot comment on how accurate it is, but the superficially chaotic feeling of the novel brings to mind the massive contrasts between rich and poor in the country and the pure mass of people that make up such a complex region. Although stylistically it is reminiscent of postmodern texts (made up of fragments of other things), rather than creating a surface devoid of meaning to challenge meaning’s own existence, if anything, this novel’s contents and its meaning exceed its bounds. The method of the novel is, perhaps, encapsulated in this sentence, towards the end of the book, supposedly a poem written by one of the characters: How to tell a shattered story? By slowing becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.
As I’ve written many times in my reviews, this is another book that I would not recommend to everybody. Yes, there are plenty of stories, some that even have an end, but it is not a book easy to classify, nor a genre book. There is romance, there are plenty of stories, there is poetry, there is politics, history, war, violence, prejudice, friendship, family relationships, but those are only aspects of the total. And, beautiful as the book is, it is not an easy read, with different languages, complex names, unfamiliar words, different styles and a fragmented structure. As I have not read Roy’s previous novel, I don’t dare to recommend it to readers who enjoyed her first novel, The God of Small Things. From the reviews I’ve read, some people who liked the first one have also enjoyed this one, but many readers have been very disappointed and have given up without reading the whole book. I’d say this is a book for people who like a challenge, who are interested in India from an insider’s perspective, don’t mind large doses of politics in their novels, and have the patience to read novels that are not page-turners full of twist and turns only intent on grabbing the readers’ attention at whatever cost. Check the book sample, read other reviews too and see if you’re up to the challenge. I know this is a novel that will stay with me for a very long time.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, I have quite a few reviews that I haven’t shared yet and I’ve decided to try and make sure I don’t miss any and start sharing in alphabetical order (apart from some that I had booked for certain dates). I’m working on several projects that I’ll tell you more about when I can (most of them don’t depend only on me) but in the meantime, I’ll share reviews when I can and I’ll keep up with reblogs of interesting things I see on my other blog.
And here, first on the list…
20 by Vatsal Surti
The story of a troubled young model and an introspective writer, 20 is a novel about loneliness, love, hopes and dreams.
One night as she is driving back home from a show, she almost runs over someone. She holds her breath, and through the fog, they see each other for the first time. Love begins to form in the space between them, in precognitions and thoughts, lights and intimacies. Seasons change. They come to know more things about themselves and each other. Life wraps them in its embrace like a haze, in a vacant space bigger than their eyes can see.
Fans of Haruki Murakami will enjoy this atmospheric and deeply felt debut from Vatsal Surti, who was described by an Amazon HALL OF FAME reviewer as “a young author to observe.”
Vatsal Surti is a US-based author who writes about the interconnections of humans.
His novella, To Desire, written when he was 17, was described by Kirkus Reviews as “poetic” with “engaging thoughts about the meaning of life and death.”
He wrote his first novel, 20, at the age of 20. His other work includes On Love, a small collection of short stories and prose poems published in 2013.
Thanks to Net Galley and to Hybrid Texts for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely choose to review. They were also conscientious enough to inform me that an updated version was available, that is the one I review.
This novel is like a confessional/stream of consciousness diary of a young woman, a fashion model who lives alone and who records her thoughts, feelings and impressions over time. The book is divided into chapters and follow the seasons, but as we spend most of the time inside the head of the protagonist (although the story is written in the third person) sometimes, as we all do in our own minds, she might go back and forth in time, and other times, due to illness, substances and her state of mind, we don’t know if something she’s experiencing is happening at all in the real world. There are also fragments of the book told from the point of view of a young man she meets, whom she falls in love with, but these are not many.
Despite the beauty of the language, I found it a bit difficult to engage with the story (that is not really a story). Perhaps it is, as some reviewers have commented, partly the fact of not knowing the name of the main protagonist or her beloved. We get to know the name of Natasha, a friend who invites her to live with her, but we don’t know much about her. We don’t know where she is, know little about who she is, and her circumstances. I imagine it might be an attempt at universalizing the story, but most readers enjoy living other lives, even if completely different to theirs, rather than a very subjective but somewhat blank one.
What I thought at times while I read the book was that I remembered having similar thoughts and feelings when I was an adolescent, at a time when everything feels new, unique, and we believe nobody has ever gone through similar experiences or knows what we’re going through. Everything is measured by how it affects us and we live inside a bubble of our own making that few things can pierce. In the case of the protagonist she suffers a very traumatic event that depresses her (although it seems to be more a matter of degree rather than the nature of the emotions she experiences, as some of her thoughts were very similar before the said event) but in a way it seems to help shake her up and realise what life is really about.
To give you a taster of the language, here I share a couple of sentences I highlighted:
A few miles above them, a plane took off, breaking the sky that had begun falling to night once again, like love inside youth.
Her eyelids closed, and behind them, her eyes shone like stars.
In summary, a book that requires a very special type of reader, and that I suspect will connect better with younger readers (YA, NA). Not a book recommended for those interested in a good story and engaging plot, but for those who enjoy descriptive, subjective and sensuous writing.
Thanks to NetGalley, to the authors and the publisher, thanks to you for reading and yes, like, share, comment and CLICK!
I’ve read a few books by Brian Moreland and loved them all but realised I hadn’t shared the review of this one. And in case you need something different, I thought today was the day. I’ve also read recently that the author’s publisher is closing down, so you might want to grab his books whilst you can.
Marty Weaver, an emotionally scarred poet, has been bullied his entire life. When he drives out to the lake to tell an old friend that he’s fallen in love with a girl named Jennifer, Marty encounters three sadistic killers who have some twisted games in store for him. But Marty has dark secrets of his own buried deep inside him. And tonight, when all the pain from the past is triggered, when those secrets are revealed, blood will flow and hell will rise.
I was given a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
I have read several books by Brian Moreland and loved them all.
Darkness Rising is the story of Marty, a young man with a difficult past (his father is a serial killer who killed his mother and six young women and he had to grow up suffering bullying and abuse), who has found in poetry a way to communicate his feelings and to quieten down the darkness inside. He has big plans, goals, and is in love with a young girl, Jennifer, whom he’s been teaching about poetry. Unfortunately, a gang of two young men and a young woman have chosen his favourite spot next to a lake to make snuff movies and dispose of the bodies, and he’s spotted there with terrible consequences. What happens next is only the beginning of the horror for Marty and what he becomes.
The story, like the previous novels written by Moreland I had read, is written with a great sense of suspense, and very visually. One can imagine the movie that could be made from the book (although sometimes it’s best not too, like when describing the artwork Marty’s father creates). This novel is more than a horror story, and it includes beautiful passages about art, the effects of creativity, first love, and redemption. Despite the extreme violence (and even the descriptions of the evil beings are lyrical and vividly accomplished), this is a coming of age and a young adult story, and an inspirational one too. Perhaps the moral of the story would not be to everybody’s taste, but the message is ultimately positive. Marty talks about going through purgatory and… he might have a point.
I like my horror stories to end up in a horrifying manner but couldn’t help and root for Marty, who goes a long way and works hard to be the best he can and to prove that one can fight against fate and blood.
This is not a conventional horror story but I’d recommend it to people who like beautifully written dark fiction, stories about the nature of creativity and art, and do not fear treading where others wouldn’t dare.
As you know on Fridays I try to bring you new books. And today I have a very recent book that I thought deserved an introduction.
I’m sure that a lot of you in the blogosphere know The Story Reading Ape and his blog Author Promotions Enterprise. Chris Graham (a.k.a The Story Reading Ape, or perhaps, The Story Reading Ape, a.k.a Chris Graham, I’m never 100% sure) is deservedly known as he works ceaselessly to help and promote writers.
Let me tell you a bit what he does (in case you haven’t crossed paths with him yet… Where have you been hiding?).
He has a Hall of Fame where he shares features of authors whose work he finds interesting and also of supporters of his blog. Here is the linkwhere you can check both features. If you’re an author but have never been featured in the Hall of Fame or didn’t know about it, you can check here how to go about submitting an article. (Yes, I am featured but I’m not going to pester you with it. If you want to find me, please do…)
If you’re interested in finding writing resources, Chris regularly writes his own, has guests and also generously shares and reblogs content he finds interesting. Go and explore his author resources!
If you’re looking for a great design service, he also provides covers, 3-D covers and videos at bargain prices (and I’d advise you to keep an eye open for special offers). Check here to see what he can do!
He also recommends other people’s services and has great content like the Monday Funnies, so I just advise to explore in general.
OK, I’m sure by now you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the new book. Chris has always said that as much as he enjoys reading and loves the ins and outs of the world of writing, he doesn’t think it’s his thing. But, he decided to do something wonderful. Enter
Agnes Mae Graham is Chris’s mother. She’s no longer with us but she wrote poems. In her day and age, it was difficult (well, almost impossible) to publish and there were no easy options available to everyone as we have now. Chris’s sister Lorna had kept her poems. Chris re-read the poems, talked to another great supporter of authors and great author herself, Jo Robinson, and here is the result:
We all have dreams, loves, and hopes; but what if you are a girl growing up in 20th century Northern Ireland before, during and after the ‘Troubles’?
From the poetic thoughts of our Mother, we get a sense of what it was like, ranging from humor, sadness, wistful thinking and sometimes just downright nonsensical, these are the words of one such girl.
My father was a great storyteller but he didn’t write. My mother is more of a listener, but I’m planning on prying a few stories out of her while she’s still with us. I love Chris and Lorna’s idea and I had to bring it to you.
Thanks to Chris, Lorna and Agnes Mae Graham for the book, thanks to Chris for all his help to writers, and thanks to you for reading, please, like, share, comment and don’t forget to CLICK and explore not only the book but also the Story Reading Ape’s site.
I’m today revisiting another of my old classic author posts. This is one of the oldest, and considering I’ve shared reviews of horror novels quite recently, it’s only appropriate.
It’s Friday and again I decided to bring you one of my favourite classic authors. If you remember when I wrote the post on Oscar Wilde I told you that one of my friends was very keen on Edgar Allan Poe when we were at school. Margarita. As a consequence I read plenty of Poe at the time, and really enjoyed it. He had a penchant for mystery and horror stories (master of Gothic style), according to some he was the inventor of the detective story, and his poems remain popular to this day. I can say that stories like his ‘The Tell-tale Heart’ will always remain with me.
He was born 19th January 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of actors but never knew his parents (father left and mother died when he was only 3). He was separated from his siblings and adopted by the Allan family (tobacco merchants) from Richmond, Virginia. It seems he never got on with John, his adoptive father.
He went to the University of Virginia but did not get enough money and turned to gambling ending up in debt.
He started publishing in 1827 (Tamerlane and Other Poems) and at same time went to West Point. Although he excelled at his studies he was not interested in the duties and was asked to leave. In 1829 he published a second collection of Poems (Al Aaraaf, Tamberlane, and Minor Poems),
He focused on his writing and moved, living in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. From 1831 to 1835 he stayed in Baltimore with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia, whom he ended up marrying in 1836 (when she was 13 or 14).
Back in Richmond he started working for a magazine: Southern Literary Messengerand became well know as a fierce critic. Due to difficulties he only worked there for two years and he only briefly worked for two other magazines. During this period he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
His fame reached its peak with his publication of the poem The Raven in 1845. Many consider it one of his best works.
He also wrote a series of essays, poems and The Cask of Amontillado.
His wife Virginia died in 1847 and it seems he never fully recovered. His health was poor and he had financial difficulties. His death is surrounded by mystery, and it’s still unclear what he died of on October 7th 1849 in Baltimore.
He suffered from bad press following his death and another writer, Rufus Griswold (fame has not treated him kindly, but what goes around…) spread rumours about Poe being mentally unwell, an alcoholic and womaniser. Despite of all that, his stories are still as shocking, if not more, than at the time of their publication.
Link to free e-books:
The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Volume 1 (this is under review currently)
If you enjoy movies I leave you with the IMDB page on Poe. There’ve been many film versions of his stories, and he’s even recently appeared as a character in his own right (I haven’t watched the movie though…). I love Roger Corman’s versions of some of his stories (actually I love Roger Corman, great filmmaker, distributor of some of the best filmmakers, great eye for talent and has discovered so many great people, from actors: Jack Nicholson, Sandra Bullock, Robert De Niro, to filmmakers: Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Peter Bognadovich…And if you’re a filmmaker his 1990 biography “How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime” is highly recommended).
I leave you with this quote because it feels so…up-to-date still:
“We should bear in mind that, in general, it is the object of our newspapers rather to create a sensation – to make a point – than to further the cause of truth.”
As you know Fridays are guest author days and recently I have been bringing you the work of some bloggers I’m very fond of but who’ve never come as authors to share their books here yet, and today I have a treat. A “real” Lord. Lord David Prosser.
David Prosser was born in 1951 and worked for many years as a Local Government Officer before taking early retirement due to health problems.
Finding it difficult to talk to people as a result of the illness he found himself in the situation of being housebound most of the time.In an effort to prove to himself he still had a value he started The Buthidars which is an all denomination, all colour,all creed group determined to better the world by Hugging.There is a site dedicated to this that welcomes all people who feel the World is better by forgetting our differences whilst celebrating the individuality of all peoples.
The next step was to remind the world of Edwardian style and beg the designers to recreate it in exchange for clothing that displays too much of next weeks washing. Let’s dress with some dignity !
Often heard are the words, life begins at 40. David is trying to show that life can get a kick-start at 60 too. He chose this age to sit and write his first novel, My Basetshire Diary, a fictional look at the life of the gentry. Book 2 which is also in diary form is a prequel telling of the days between gaining his title and now, when he performed the duties of an unofficial envoy to Her Majesty.There are times when confronted by women when it’s not sure if his stiff upper lip is enough to help him get by. !
The third book, More Barsetshire Diary is a continuation of the first book. Lord David was volunteered to help the Dreaded Edna achieve an ambition. In this book he starts the job of making her more popular when Lady J volunteers his services to help Diana The Dowager Duchess of Cheam raise enough money to save her childhood home. Maybe he can do it with the help of the Toastie Tenors and the mysterious Eileen Dover.
A fictitious look at Lord David’s day as a member of the Gentry living in a small village. Come and meet the villagers like Mellors the gardener with a past and Grizelda the housekeeper. Join us at the village fete where Edna is determined to win the jam making competition at any price. See how the formidable Lady J intends to knock Lord David into shape.
Is the famous stiff upper lip his only protection? Is anyone really this naive? The answer is a resounding YES !
The preview to My Barsetshire Diary in which David inherits his title and retires from work only to be asked to take on a job that his late cousin did, as an unofficial envoy to HMG. Lord David is a fish out of water travelling the world trying to solve his Government’s embarrassing little problems. With him attracting the attention of so many females, and making so many new enemies can he return to the formidable Lady J in one piece?
The continuing saga of a member of the gentry. Lord David Prosser has to help the dreaded Edna in her campaign to become a Councillor as well as help raise funds for Diana the Dowager Duchess of Cheam to restore her beloved first home. All this while coping with life in the village, Oscar and Lady J.
David Prosser, Lord of Bouldnor was selected as Ghost Writer of this book because of his intimate knowledge of the subject who dictated the stories as well as dictating David’s sleeping patterns. Oscar is a Superior among Superiors and feels his stories should be told for the betterment of all cat-kind. It can be used as a training manual as well as providing entertainment. Longlegs (Humans) may well find some value in knowing how to behave with Superiors in future. David is the author of the Barsetshire Diaries in which Oscar naturally plays a starring role. The books are. My Barsetshire Diary The Queen’s Envoy More Barsetshire Diary.
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