Rating: 5 stars
Meena Kandasamy’s fictionalised account of her abusive marriage is on the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Knowing what it’s about, in very broad terms, I’ve been reluctant to read it, but a couple of glowing reviews piqued my curiosity.
The book describes four months and eight days of domestic abuse and marital rape. It describes why a woman in that situation might not be able to leave, and might not want to leave. It describes how abused women easily disappear from their social circles because the other people in those circles don’t want to look for reasons why.
I found it eye-opening. It made concrete something that I have only thought about abstractly. I’m thankful that I have never been raped, that the worst things I’ve experienced have been isolated incidents of physical and verbal abuse. I read this book from a relatively safe space. I can’t say whether a woman who has experienced or is experiencing the things Kandasamy describes would find it a help or a source of further distress to read this book. I can say that I found it well balanced and honest. Continue reading
Rating: 3 stars
I just read Erik’s review of The Lowland over on The Past Due Book Review, and can’t believe I didn’t post my review when I started this blog. Perhaps it was one of my random thought offers that I didn’t think worthy of a second airing beyond LibraryThing. Or perhaps it was because I hadn’t jotted anything down in my book thoughts notebook on Evernote.
Anyway, here’s what I thought at the time. A few weeks later, I read Rohanton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, which I much preferred.
As I started to read this book, I didn’t think I was going to like it. The characters seemed so blank, so disinterested in their surroundings, so unwilling to say what they were really thinking and feeling. They float through their lives, occasionally making momentous decisions that never really live up to their promise. There was nothing particularly to grab onto with any of them, nothing that made me warm to them or want to root for them as life happened around them.
The book is a sequence of events, sometimes recounted in a linear way, sometimes using flashbacks and multi-character perspective. It never really gets going, it jumps around too much, and doesn’t have anything striking to say. Despite beginning at a time of civil unrest in India, despite portraying the lives of a fragmented family.
And yet, by the end of the book I didn’t want it to end. I’d spent everyday time with the characters and they felt like neighbours I might nod to in the street. Nobody I would sit down with for a cup of tea and a chat, but people I would miss seeing around. The final chapter, told from the perspective of the character I was most interested in, but who doesn’t really get a voice in the rest of the novel, was sad. All of that, and for what, he seemed to be saying. I didn’t know, either.
Rating: 3 stars
I picked this book up from my local library on a hit and run in the letter As. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to read, and it feels as though there are too many books but not the right ones. It happens in book shops and in libraries. I’ve developed a technique of going to a letter in the fiction section at random and pulling a book from the shelf based on whether I like the spine and whether I’ve heard of the author before. In a book shop, I’ll read the opening paragraph. If I want to carry on reading, I’ll give it a go. In the library I’m more likely to borrow it without more than a glance at the blurb on the back cover. It’s a risky strategy, but sometimes it works.
It worked in this instance. I enjoyed The White Tiger well enough. It was serious but not too serious. It was angry, but angry in a sanguine way. Continue reading
Rating: 5 stars
Sometimes, you think you know what there is to know about a country or a situation. You think the things you read in school, and the other things you read later in newspapers, journals, fiction and histories, have told you the truth. Then you remember that you’re a historian and unless you go back to the source, you’re only ever going to get a version of the truth from the perspective of the person telling it. Continue reading