High Fidelity

The thing is I had read this book before and I didn’t know it till I read half the book, and then I realized I had forgotten the ending so I read along.

Cover of "High Fidelity"

However, let me tell you: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is not something you read and forget (you may question my forgetfulness about reading it before and I’m going to use my insanity as a defense). The story is about Rob, a thirty-five year old man (who in the course of the book turns thirty-six but that’s hardly important, is it?) who owns Championship Vinyl, a record shop and has  broken up with his long-time girlfriend. The thing about Rob is that he is a sort of mid-life crisis – he is practically broke, Laura has left him, he doesn’t know where his life is headed. Rob is also the modern man who does not believe in grey areas – for him, the pleasures and pains in life are either black or white; things are neatly written off categories and columns; distributed in labelled boxes. He thinks in Top Fives: top five break ups, top five records for break ups, top five records at home, top five movies, and the like. Rob is also deeply insecure – he is a loner.

The book is hilarious. But Hornby’s message about relationships are clear: nothing is smooth-sailing, and you have to decide if a person is worth it! The music mentioned in the book is amazing. I’m already downloading the original soundtrack of the movie based on the book. I also plan to watch the movie sometime later in the week.

3.5/5 Stars

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.

Revisiting An Old Favourite

catcher-in-the-rye-2

I recently re-read Salinger’s The Catcher  in the Rye (for a friend’s coursework) nearly ten years after I had first read it, and as unexpected as it sounds, I didn’t like it that much. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still your average disillusioned, melancholic teenager (remember while I’m in my early twenties, I never could outgrow my teenage years). But I cannot identify with Holden Caulfield anymore.

When I had read it I was 13 or 14 and I was just growing up and the world felt awkward and absurd and it felt like I’d never be a part of it. Holden came to my rescue then. He was sad, he hated that the world was closing in on him, he felt helpless, he felt trapped between  stereotypes and the opinions of others. There was a lot he could do perhaps, to salvage himself from the situation but if he had then the book wouldn’t be as beautiful as it is now.

Again, I love Absurd Heroes: the quest to find the meaning of life, and the futility of it all and thereafter, the foreboding, the pain is beautiful in its own way. Kind of sexy too, perhaps. But I’d much prefer the Byronic hero over the Absurd one anyday now that I’m older.

Anyhow, I will always hold this book close to my heart. For the wrong reasons. Holden was a rebel, and I aspired to become one but … now years later, I think I just succumbed to the world.

And that’s not a bad thing, right?

Re-reading The Namesake

I started re-reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake last week. I realized that the first time I’d read I hadn’t appreciated it for two reasons:

Firstly, reading the book then was a fad so I read it pretty quickly without understanding its underlying narratives. Secondly, to understand what the protagonist feels, it is necessary to put oneself away from one’s “comfort-zone” – one’s home, city, country.

I do not know why I had decided to re-read it. In fact, I couldn’t even find my paperback (some idiot must have borrowed and never returned it). So I loaded it onto my Kindle and finished it in a day and half. I also downloaded and watched the film soon after. But after I read it again, I realized how I had come to understand the book through Gogol’s perspective only.  This time when I started it, I was reading it like the story was subsumed within Ashima. When I neared the end, I came to like Moushumi a lot. In many ways, I realized I was like her – fiercely independent, running away from her own identity constantly, doing things she can live without only because of her parents. I was happy to an extent that Moushumi and Gogol don’t make it – it is surreal on so many levels; two very similar (and similarly damaged) people can never *peacefully* be together.

Of course, as a reader, I had too many questions. Why would Lahiri make this her first novel? Obviously, the Bengali theme of a bhalonaam (the Indian concept of a ‘goodname’ used publicly) and a daaknaam (nickname/moniker) had been close to her heart. Perhaps Jhumpa was a Gogol. Perhaps her parents tried that she be known by her bhalonaam (Wiki tells me it is Nilanjana). Perhaps like Gogol, she preferred her daaknaam. Did she go through an identity crisis as a teenager?

Another thing that struck me how my Chhotomama has (nick) named his first-born, my cousin, Pushkin. Now was Pushkin a Gogol waiting to happen? Did Chhotomama like Pushkin’s poems to an extent that he could name his son so? Or did he have an incident similar to Ashoke Ganguli on a train to Jamshedpur?

My imagination must stop running amok.

I like how Lahiri shows the plight of two women dealing with this morass of identity in a place that is not home: Ashima Ganguli and Moushumi Mazumdar. And I respect her for doing this without judgment on either. In the beginning, when her husband leaves for work, Ashima is scared and there is a learned helplessness around her character – crying to go back home, losing her shopping bags in the train (and finding them, thereafter), running out and lighting all the lights of the house when she realizes her husband’s gone. But towards the end, we see Ashima has found peace in a place she could have never called home. She buries the hatchet with the country that took away her husband, her son and to some extend her peace of mind?

On the other hand, Moushumi wants to avoid this morass in the first place. She never does succeed, though. From India to UK to US to France to US. She often takes off because she does not want to end up like her mother. She demands to stay Mazumdar after her marriage to Gogol (as for Ashima, I don’t remember her maiden name – she takes Ashoke’s name and is known as Ashima Ganguli throughout). She reads, she studies, she drinks alcohol, she dances. She has an affair to escape her identity. She could possibly never make peace with America.

I could totally identify with Moushumi and though Lahiri paints her character without prejudice, the film adaptation seems to “judge” her. I really could not swallow that.

Also, Moushumi’s lover’s name was Dmitri. I have no idea why the lover in the movie was called Pierre. Was Mira Nair trying to convince the audience of Moushumi’s french connection?

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