The Sense of an Ending – Barnes Revisted.

Sense-001Photograph I took of the book with the battered dustjacket

So I’m going through something of a re-reading phase. Today I reread Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending instead of packing for a trip that I have to take to Delhi (I still haven’t started packing; I am lolling on the bed and writing this post and I have thrown all caution to the wind, and it’s after two in the night, mind you – also, I have to take a train tomorrow but who says one has to abandon book-blogging for that reason?)

The library sent in this book, with the dust-jacket a little battered – at first, I was annoyed, I don’t like books treated like garbage. But throughout this evening, I turned its pages and remembered the mundane but magical worlds of Tony Webster and Adrian Finn and the ever-intriguing Veronica. I felt excited that this book has changed hands so many times!

The book is short one, in terms of pages – one hundred and fifty only. But the story, the characters, and Barnes’ treatment of the plot will make it seem like you’ve travelled throughout Webster’s childhood, like you know Alex, Colin and most importantly, Adrian very intimately. You will resent Veronica Mary Ford’s existence, in the beginning. Time and again, you will wonder if/why Tony loved her, why he met her family and why he loved seeing her dancing in his dorm-room. And in the end, you might reconsider your views about her.

The novel talks is prosaic about how we choose to interpret our memories the way it suits us. And how our fickle memories leave us with vast histories that we ourselves might have created for ourselves.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — to ourselves.”

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

The story is told to us by Tony Webster himself and so it may be possible that he manipulates facts to his advantage – the reader will sigh at his expressions, descriptions and delineations. Webster may or may not be an unreliable narrator but that is totally up to the reader to decide. The beauty of this novel is that everything is up to the reader: for instance, I loved Adrian Finn even after I read and put away the book, even after I read the ending; I wished to sympathize with Veronica but I couldn’t (perhaps I thought I was a little like her?); I genuinely waited for Anne to appear somewhere in the course of the book, she didn’t; I wished Margaret wasn’t right but she was all along; despite Tony’s self-righteousness, I refuse to be cross with him even as the ending approached – people make mistakes, things go horribly wrong, sometimes even ironically wrong, any of this could hardly be poor old Tony Webster’s fault.

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Lady Oracle

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 Yours Truly, burying her fat face in Atwood’s book.

This is what I was frightened of, actually. Reviewing the work of an author for whom I have had unflinching admiration – the sort that would mean being completely uncritical, defensive when someone lashes out at them and always feel genuinely happy when you come across their work.

Margaret Atwood.

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 I began reading The Handmaid’s Tale because it was dystopian. I had finished Orwell’s 1984 a few months before I stumbled upon Atwood, and I realized dystopian literature was fabulous, haunting, maddening. And thus began the journey of devouring everything Atwood. I fell in love with her style of placing words side by side and founding a sort of labyrinth for the reader. I would dream of her characters, of the stories, I would feel for them, I would hate them. I’d find an Offred on the streets, and perhaps a Cordelia if I went through my high school photographs. And then last week the library (that believes in choosing a random book from a list you’ve provided them with; therefore, a blind book date every few days) sent in Lady Oracle.

I had been waiting to read Lady Oracle but not on the Kindle, for some reason. So when they sent in the book, I was determined to finish it off before anything else. However, I have been too busy trying to get my college documents together and this meant, travelling to the university – unenviable journey by train/bus, rains, muddy puddles, sleep quotient absolutely zilch – and hence, reading had to be stalled for a couple of days.

Anyhow, I digress. I have read Atwood’s later novels – The Handmaid’s Tale, Wilderness Tips, Cat’s Eye and others – and her first novel, The Edible Woman. I have not judged any of the books because I was bowled over by her style, plot, characters. However, I began finding fault with Lady Oracle as soon as I began it. The books begins like a dream, almost, “I planned my death carefully, unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it.” Anyone who has understood the cheap thrills of wanting to escape her life would understand what I am talking about. Any escapist would look forward to a crazy history that would back up the a first line of the book. And Atwood does give us a protagonist of that sort, Joan Foster – writer of peculiar costume gothics, fat-then-now-slim escapist who has run away to Italy because things are closing in on her, mysterious secret past, many accidental lovers.

Joan Foster is what every girl is inside. Constant madness to gulp down massive amounts of food, and the constant guilt of being a shape that noone trusts and yet everyone feels comfortable around. Insecurity, the need to lie, the unfortunate ways in which she meets her lovers and continually falls deeper into a morass that she has herself created, the need to love, the need to run away.

However, Atwood, in parts, forgets to tie loose ends at least during the story (in the end, things fall into place, though very complicatedly but I can live with that. The woman is phenomenal. One mistake does not matter). The protagonist is complicated, her mission is complicated and the issues in the book are complicated as well. Atwood deals with so MANY issues – feminism, politics, adultery, betrayal, blackmail, religion, spirituality, abusive parent, psychologically damaged kid, body image problems, teenage angst. There are just so many things she wants to say and yet, all these issues are neither resolved nor provide with some consequence to the protagonist. And this is why the book couldn’t be as well-received as all her other books.

Two things made me sit back and really think during this book:

1. Atwood’s treatment of the protagonist. She is bullied and cornered as a child during her time as a Brownie. And this gives in to  a scene where she and her group of friends cross a bridge and they find a “bad man” with daffodils and later how this very man (possibly) saves her when her friends leave her there alone and realizes – “Was the man who untied me a rescuer or a villain? Or, an even more baffling thought: was it possible for a man to be both at once?

This scene is later perfected in Cat’s Eye where Elaine Risley is left alone to die in ice cold water by her friends who bully her. What started off, somewhat unsuccessfully,  in Lady Oracle with the victimization of Joan by Elizabeth and Marlene, is essentially completed in Cat’s Eye with the torturous bullying of Elaine by Cordelia, Grace and Carol. Atwood is elusive, as Michael Rubbo has himself said (No, I haven’t gotten around to watch the documentary; I don’t know how to download it for free, yet) and perhaps it is true. Many, like myself would possibly think that she herself was treated this way by a close friend – left in the dead of the night to die or to be raped. However, noone would ever come to know. Perhaps, in her childhood, she was the tormentor or a silent bystander while all this happened to someone else. Of course, who’d know this but Atwood herself?

2. The book won  my heart because of this sole sentence “Was every Heathcliff a Linton in disguise?“. We see Arthur, Joan’s husband, lose his Byronic indifference slowly throughout their marriage and then, the Red Porcupine starts off as someone so eccentric, so insanely out-of-the-world that the reader would want to know more about him. However, he too descends into a man of needs and this frustrates Joan.

Atwood, long before her success came, had bared the politics of a man and a woman. As the Polish Count in the book states (I paraphrase) that a man has to keep the woman intrigued by his mind and the woman has too keep the man’s interest with the use of her body. However, most of the men that Joan meets and begins to love, as it seems, cannot keep their mystery for long. This of course has happened to so many of us. And the reference to Wuthering Heights and HeathCliff is remarkable!

Because I am biased and I absolutely adore the author, I’ll give this book four out of five stars.

The Remains of the Day

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(Photograph I instagrammed – shallow, I know – the evening the book arrived. That’s my midnight snack)

I won’t lie – I started this book only because I wanted to watch the movie. It’s been sitting on the external hard disk for so long and I wanted to know if I should keep it, or delete it to make space for other movies. I have a rule – I don’t watch movie adaptations before I’ve read the book. And now that I’ve read Ishiguro’s masterpiece, I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable watching the film (To hell with the drama! I’ll watch it, anyway). The book was great. And great is an understatement.

There are two things  – a book with an unrequited love story, and a Byronic hero: world-weary, emotionally-conflicted, charismatic – that make me go weak in the knees. The Remains of the Day gave me both. The story is about Stevens, a butler of Darlington Hall, who embarks on a vacation. This holiday is his first time away from Darlington Hall in several years and the protagonist-narrator cannot but go back repeatedly to anecdotes about his time there. He is a principled man, dutiful and has achieved a certain amount of ‘dignity’ that his profession demands. It is also this very duty that has estranged him of his love for Miss Kenton. The journey from Darlington Hall to Weymouth is his journey from his present to his past – from the consequences to the sacrifices he made at a time when history was going through enormous changes and he believed that his service, his employer needed more attention than his own life and matters of the heart.

I was told that the book would be slow. Mostly because of how elaborate the prose is. But it isn’t. It is beautiful. Almost like someone’s life unfolding in a quick motion, right before your own eyes.

Of Book Photos

I don’t know why but for some reason I had forgotten about this blog. I know, I know – I’m weird. Also, there’s noone to remind me to post because except for the Boy, noone knows I write in here. Anyhow, so exactly five and a half minutes ago, I put down the book (the Kindle, actually) I was reading and sent the ‘reset password’ link to my mail to be able to open WordPress.

Then, I realized I really did not want to write.

The book – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – I am reading right now has become extremely interesting and I don’t think I want to distract myself. The book, by the way, is an epistolary novel – a novel that is shaped through a series of letters that characters write to each other – and something that talks about a literary society during the Nazi period. The last time I was this excited was when I was flipping through the pages of The Book Thief, frantically. I think I have a thing for novels that are based on the Nazi period and The Holocaust. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, though.

So, I leave you with photographs. These are my books, the ones that I brought back from my college – during the packing and the unpacking process. (My clothes, by the way, are still in the suitcase!)

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The BIG suitcase filled with my books the night before the packers came. I had deliberately put Douglas Adams’ So Long And Thanks for All the Fish on top as an obvious message before I left. However, noone seemed to understand it (Damn it!).

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The evening the packers delivered my stuff. I arranged and re-arranged till my OCD-laden heart was happy. That red thingie is my love, my Kindle.

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The favourite shelf (there’s a less favourite shelf, too) after arranging it. The toys all over it are an embarrassment, I know. Bleh.

The One Where It All Begins.

When I came back, the first thing I did was re-arrange my favourite book shelf – I have been home for exactly seventeen days and I don’t find it weird that I am *still* living out of a suitcase.

Right now, I’m surrounded by seven books and my Kindle.

Every morning (afternoon, actually) starts with the same thought, “What book should I read today?”Weekends-001

I leave books in the bathroom, as a (bad) habit. I’ve missed reading in the bathroom for five years in law school. My bowels are perfect when I have something to read while I do the deed!

The Mater has paid an online library to deliver books home (and pick them up when I’m done reading! Whoa!) because she dreads the next three and a half months as much I do.

If the Pater moves a book off the shelf, I notice almost immediately.
The Boy threatens to break up if I don’t read his favourite books (Torture, I say!).

The Brother doesn’t read at all. I secretly want to disown him.

If I have kids and they don’t read, I am going to defenestrate them.

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I have a lot of free time and I am reading like a woman possessed. 🙂

So it begins.

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