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CultureDrinker (London, UK)

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: The hottest Sunday Times bestseller of 2017
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: The hottest Sunday Times bestseller of 2017
Price: £7.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Competently written, but banal and convenient, 12 July 2017
I am compelled to draw my pitchfork against the marketing/design departments of modern publishers who have been pulling off cons month after month for the last few years in sprucing up competent-but-unremarkable content with punchy but misguided blurbs, spectacularly designed jackets and bytes from big names (authors, broadsheet reviewers) on their payroll to ensure readers shell out for any odd dross. This sacrifice of good sense and good taste for short-term economic gain will prove to be the death of an already dwindling book publishing business. Serious readers have already become indifferent to bestseller lists, award winners, prize takers etc but in the hope that there is good content hiding somewhere in the confetti of jacked up, jacketed up mediocrity, I soldiered on with one such new entrant to the club.

Oliphant turned out to be a curious book. The germ of it is that we have an oddball (ish) character holding court with us confessing on her daily routines. She is seen describing her moping around in her single life that involves a desk job at an ad/design agency which offers little intellectual or social stimulation and her private routine, which sees her sipping an uncomfortable amount of vodka. You have here the makings of a devilishly unreliable narrator, but sadly Honeyman isn't interested in developing it thus. Instead we have to bear her deeply uninteresting infatuation for a guy who is a lead singer in some indie grindcore band. She begins stalking him in earnest around London and fantasising her future with him (I think we are supposed to find this creepy development cute).

Her confessional, sometimes exclusively elaborating on the banal, carries little nuggets of a troubled past (almost like easter eggs)- you spot a childhood spent in foster care mentioned queasily, some parental and some boyfriend abuse that comes up in a conversation, and very slowly (about half the book in) you begin to get the picture. Every now and then, we also get a transcript of her telephonic conversation with her Mummy holed up in some correctional facility. Beyond her stalking and vodka-sipping and crossword-solving, she finds herself reluctantly helping a stranger who collapses in the middle of the road, and through this incident forms a string of new acquaintances and relationships, which gives her the thought to confront her past.

A large part of the book is spent establishing Oliphant as the quirky weirdo which did not strike as particularly convincing to me. She wasn't any different or any more eccentric than myself or people around me (if anything, she was way less colourful and imaginative in her references). Note to the author: Articulating a thought on the page in first person does not equal a quirk. Oliphant's social observations, which fill up a large part of this tome, inspite of the fact that they are held in the privacy of her head are neither wry nor witty. Chapter after chapter, it seemed like we should be aiming for something more uncomfortable, edgy or dangerous or risibly misogynistic, but what came on the page was distinctly conservative or just on the right side of agreeable to maybe not desert the artfully summoned sympathies of the reader. Which made elaborating them for the reader's benefit futile. Her hyped-up, self-aware, cutesy social awkwardness, already flimsily established for me, went for a complete toss as she was seen to manoeuvre dining and chatting with a battery of strangers after nothing more than a throwaway reservation.

Her pat recovery into social normalcy led to a pat session with a psychotherapist and out it all comes: an inexplicable arson, a dash of abuse, the last post-therapy call to Horrible Mummy and a happily ever after. There's tons of detail that add nothing to the story: Twitter feeds of her crush, her Mummy's disciplining ways and odd habits like feeding haute cuisine to her kids and there's tons of important stuff that stays forever off the page, not least the Mummy character, who remains a distant villain.

Somewhere in the middle, as we shifted gears into Oliphant's "Bad Days", there is a semi-honest scene of her sprawled on the floor naked with her booze and self-pity which grabbed my attention and had me wondering if we'll finally enter into the dark territory of her childhood horrors of parental abuse, her fractured view of self, her distorted expectations from companionship and her gradual descent into alcoholism. Disappointingly it was all gestural: a brief toe-dip into murky waters before we amble along to Oliphant's next meetup with a work colleague turned friend, Raymond. The final act conveniently has scenes with a psychotherapist so we could have exposition(tell) what we couldn't be shown. Once the synthetic large font "psychoanalysis" is dispensed with, we have a healed woman (with love on the horizon) who's kicked the alcohol (from playfully lugging in 3 litres of vodka to weekend-sips, just like that!) and ready for the life ahead.

In all, harmless enough to make me see it through to its saccharine end, but never quite came alive or became more than a sum of its parts. Forgettable.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Price: £9.99

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More political journalism than novel, 9 Jun. 2017
Toppling under the weight of themes and journalism/opinion-masquerading-as-fiction, Ministry of Utmost Happiness proved to be a regrettable disappointment for me. It all begins beautifully: Roy takes me right into the gullies of Old Delhi and shows the world of Anjum, a hermaphrodite who is adopted by a community of intersex misfits, eking out a livelihood with compassion and resolute private dignity. With the prose reminiscent of her lyrical debut God Of Small Things, she patiently and convincingly constructs a Muslim social, bringing in Urdu couplets and evoking the lost glories of Mughal Delhi in the beautifully monikered Khwabgaah nestled within an indifferent, culturally defunct, bursting metropolis. Reminiscent of the reverence found in City of Djinns by Dalrymple, I was convincingly transported to this little settlement and rather surprised to see her give a convincing voice to the much reviled intersex and transgender community, whose now-century old abuse in India has followed from the everyday street to the occassional pen. Many moons ago, the late Khushwant Singh had penned an irreverent little biography to the city of Delhi and used a hermaphrodite character as an excuse to pen detailed sex scenes or offer crude metaphors to the grand old city’s lost soul. Roy’s elegiac reconstruction of a colony peopled by them and having an intersex character as a protagonist rehabilitates and restores, not to forget her equally convincing gestural capture of the secular Muslim reality that has an easy and informed appreciation of poetry, music, cuisine and architecture, something easily forgotten and brutally subverted in the current global fundamentalist narrative. Impressed by the opening pages of her new empathy project I was ready for her to bravely chart new territories only to watch her switch gears unannounced a quarter of a way in and make the book about the Kashmir situation.

Maybe it has to do with the two decade long gestation period of this book during which Roy transformed herself into a full-blown political dissident in India seen championing the cause of Maoists, indigenous tribes and Kashmiri separatists; while also crying fowl over mainstream Hindu nationalism, dehumanizing modernisation and barefaced corruption. Her need to insert all of these concerns sequentially in the Ministry tramples the barely sprouted sapling of Anjum’s world as we suddenly find ourselves inside the head of a cynical intelligence officer who is seen reminiscing the various levels of corruption he encountered first hand as the Indian Army’s and Indian Government’s attempts at controlling the insurgency in Kashmir were failing at all levels: logistical, ideological and humanitarian. From politicians and army personnel staging capture of terrorists and profiteering from the region’s collective misery unabashedly to (and here I was surprised) the separatists losing sight of their objectives to self-govern and the realities awaiting beyond the imagined independence, this controversial expose-of-sorts is peppered with not-so-subtle nicknames for the Prime Ministers and the pigheaded (in Roy’s opinion) policies authorized by the successive cabinets led by these ministers since the 1990s. Some of the indignation and political commentary is amateurish and completely off-the-point but my patience with Roy's humanism saw me through. Ultimately, by breathlessly giving us a polyphonic street-level reality, she is seen earnestly showing up the ridiculousness of all sides, the farce of it all, and the tragedy of how little purchase basic humanity at present has in this over-politicised region drowned under establishment-facilitated us-versus-them narrative. Who wouldn't sympathise at the dissolving of a picturesque terrain into a glorified army barracks of tanks, guns, barbed wire and dead bodies.

By turns making me aghast and updating me of the failures of various counter-insurgency missions, while Roy was busy using Ministry as a cathartic literary experiment for her newly evolved apathetic political soul, I became nervous how this narrative will attach itself into Anjum’s Jannat. She eventually did jump the shark by taking a detour into the land of no return by hatching a love triangle of sorts between the intelligence officer and a left-wing journalist who is herself in love with a political activist.

She gave me no reason as a reader to care for these new characters who are lost or have begun new lives in disguise and whose names and sketches are repeatedly used by her as a Trojan horse to document the unaccountable disappearances resulting from atrocities committed by both the Establishment (vesting the Army with powers and Acts) and the terrorist organisations in Kashmir or similar such grievances. We have a section, reminiscent of Roberto Bolano’s bigger fictional outputs 2666 and Savage Detectives (or closer home, Jaspreet Singh’s Helium with his grievance for the 1984 Sikh genocide), where an exasperated literary author is seen matter-of-factly documenting the disappearances as a response. She left me with the same sigh as Bolano and Singh did: in perverse times like we live in now, where the genocides accrue and a well-oiled machinery of denial, information suppression and amnesia is present to restructure national memory, niche art like literary fiction and festival films remain the only document for the disenfranchised: the minorities, the lost, the dead. We live in times where the truly informed are few and powerless, the majority are blinded, enslaved or distracted, and the puppet-masters of today continue to revise our yesterdays.

Such gargantuan themes of national amnesia and historical revisionism are undeniably pertinent but have become a background score that now (for me) add little of emotion or tone to the fiction designed around them. I thought that a premise of an underground society where the contemporary Indian society’s rejects forming their own world and their own heaven could insert some hope but with Roy also resorting to self-righteous journalistic hectoring, this remained unrealised. Roy was too busy chronicling the disorder earnestly to give a taste of its effect. Pages upon pages of descriptive transcriptions given from either a distance of retrospect or recollection did not help the cause with the novel reducing into an anaemic plod as the three shape-shifting individuals wafted through the various darknesses of a violently modernising India, never quite becoming full blooded characters to root for. And for me, this is where Ministry.. fails as a novel. Everyone finds themselves conveniently at Anjum’s altar eventually, but I was past caring by then as I had read the complete latter half of the book with the emotional investment I’d accord to a clinical guideline.

I sorely missed the playful and poetic Roy of initial pages where with a witty turn of phrase she managed to evoke tragedies, melancholies and prejudices that went centuries deep. I sincerely hope that the political activist in her hasn’t stifled the gifted storyteller in her. Given that she has now expelled Ministry from her system, her next literary project will hopefully see her able to give us more flesh-and-blood characters who spend more time living through than commenting upon the mega-narrative of their country’s politics and sociology.

Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery
Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery
Price: £8.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than Do No Harm, 29 May 2017
Two and a half years back, I remember being left a little bewildered by the celebrated first book by ace surgeon Marsh which came packaged as a slice of life memoir-of-sorts which, to my consternation back then, alternated unannounced between his frustration with the current management styles in NHS hospitals, some scenes from difficult neurosurgical cases that took you right into the heart of his surgical practice and his brief, thwarted attempt to set up a neurosurgical mentorship and practice in Ukraine. You briefly caught him cycling, but the real person behind that meticulous professional stayed off the page. Marsh was seen introducing his readers to his art, his skills and his tools, and understandably kept the anima behind the persona off the page.

Admissions, his second outing, is the missing companion text to Do No Harm that introduces one to Henry Marsh the person behind the surgeon. I took right on to it after being struck by the introductory confessional where Marsh is seen contemplating about such morbid realities as suicide, euthanasia and what constitutes a good death. In his lonesome geriatric amble as he is considering a newly acquired retirement cottage for his next renovation project, he lets his nimble mind take his readers on various professional and personal trips down the memory lane, all tinged with a surprising dose of regret.

With castigating candour he is seen drawing his personal equations, remembering the father whose memoir he wished he had written, the mother he wished he had spent more time with, the ex-partner he wished he had a better marriage with: Mr Marsh is practically unrecognizable here as this doubtful old man.His sometimes uncomfortably intimate confessions in Admissions made me finally befriend him, an experience I enjoyed more than Do No Harm’s warranted but distinctly cold showboating from a pioneer in neurosurgery. Here, the counterpoints between the personal anxieties and the professional certitudes are stark. On seeing a pioneer like him dissecting a dedicated but narrow life with so much dejection and cynicism, I found myself privately cheering him on when he switched gears and busied himself in detailing a recollected neurosurgical case with pride and precision. However the binding theme here is that of despairing weariness as the retiring Marsh opens his eyes to the world outside neurosurgery and readies himself for retirement.

He is seen dismantling all his achievements, unpacking all the uncertain moments in his illustrious career and is seen nervously groping for the Truth, wondering if there was a point to some, or any of it. What did all those trials, all that accumulation of knowledge, all those tremendous battles of will and action amount to? Did they have any significance outside the tight context of the healthcare system and institutions he tutored and practiced in? Arguably not, and this is terribly humbling, both for him and us. Seeing him mope about listless and unheard in an overpopulated, under-resourced, money-for-treatment outpatient clinic of a Nepalese hospital is a mind-state you didn’t expect Mr Marsh to find in, and there he is, open to Consider and Meditate.

Being confronted with cultures, societies and problems completely foreign, he is seen re-evaluating the place of neurosurgery in the broader scheme of things, his righteous professional absolutism thawing into a more relativistic space and this makes for a remarkably more mature appraisal by him about his work’s Value (“As the human population continued to grow exponentially, and as I read it I wondered whether becoming a doctor, healing myself by healing others, might not be a little self-indulgent”).

In this heightened philosophical state that he has worked himself in, the aphorisms from his pen acquire a new beauty, sieved as they are from the filters of contradictions and dualities that he is seen newly comfortable with. Especially here: “A good doctor will speak to both the dissonant selves of a dying patient – the part that knows that it is dying, and the part that hopes that it will yet live. A good doctor will neither lie nor deprive the patient of hope, even if the hope is only of life for a few more days. But it is not easy, and it takes time, with many long silences.” or “Many medical decisions – whether to treat, how much to investigate – are not clear-cut. We deal in probabilities, not certainties.”

It is curious to observe that the same nervousness around senescence and dying that afflicts most of us also keeps this man awake: a man who has dexterously handled living tissue and cleaved dying tissue of other people, and has managed to wrestle in a good few months to years of thinking, breathing life for hundreds of patients. “As I have got older, I have instead come to realize that we have no idea whatsoever as to how physical matter gives rise to consciousness, thought and feeling. This simple fact has filled me with an increasing sense of wonder, but I have also become troubled by the knowledge that my brain is an ageing organ, just like the organs of the rest of my body.”

Sometimes, the downcast, heavy-handed existentialism gets indulgent, but as we see him return to the elements: to the sights, smells and sounds of nature, he makes you smile. Its endearing to see him lose himself in the world of trees and tree surgery where he waxes eloquent about the smells of a freshly severed oak bark, and he makes for equally joyful company as he playfully searches for the Big Questions of Humanity by contemplating the brains, minds and inner lives of animals.

By exposing his wounds so fearlessly, his subsequent rage at the litigious culture and the exasperation at the dehumanizing, manager-driven NHS becomes a lament you want to lend an ear to. The questions he asks while articulating the woeful final moments where he has had to unceremoniously resign or while being summoned to courts hits home with the young practicing clinician within me who is getting used to being part of the chaotic, failing-but-standing socialized healthcare.

4 3 2 1
4 3 2 1
Price: £9.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All That Man Was, in the 60s, 19 May 2017
This review is from: 4 3 2 1 (Kindle Edition)
This was my first Paul Auster and thanks to this giant tome, rest assured, it won't be my last. I was so enthralled to find an author of such merit whose prose spoke to me and then embarrassed to have come to his doorstep this late.

I absolutely loved the What-If premise that is 4321's opening gambit: a boy Archibald Ferguson, gets to be born four times over and live his four lives through the same two decades (I wished there were more!) and we get a slice of each of his lives in parallel (or given that we readers are the bosses, in alternation). What this quickly reveals to be, is a full-blooded, patient meditation on the role of Chance and Choice as two almost-mythological forces determining Archie's Destiny in life and relationships (like for most of us mortals). It also calls its readers to contemplate that other 20th century personhood-construction debate: nature vs nurture as the various Archies are seen growing in families that are fractured differently. And while Auster gets busy with peopling Archie's life with a gargantuan supporting cast of characters, staging passionate scenes of confrontation and crises within and without Archie, there is an intricate political and cultural time capsule being constructed of the large font America in the 1960s to anchor the fable geographically and socio-politically. The backdrop, the decade, its politics, its disillusionment: they are as much a character here as the four Archies who bear it and succumb to it in varying degrees.

Auster's ambidexterity in switching between personal and political introduces the third meditation of the interface between these two spheres with ease, and as if the three subtexts hadn't yet crowded the narrative enough, he is seen considering the very nature of boyhood and early manhood in the America he grew and knew in. If this was ever to be turned into a film, Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before series) and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) must be consulted. However, they'd need JJ Abrams or the Wachowski brothers to tie up the asomatous metaphysical entanglements into a neat bow, for the yarn in 4321 keeps unspooling with all the wisdom of parallel lives and destinies unfolding sneakily smuggled out from the prose.

I'll have a little go at the book's length first. I am on a hunt for the definitive post-2000s literary doorstopper (don't ask me why), but like all the mad, widely feted beauties that have flown from the pen before 4321 (A Little Life, Luminaries, Goldfinch, 1Q84, Jonathan Strange to name a few) they all leave me feeling that they'd probably gone on 300 pages too long- a trend I wished Auster's book bucked but it didn't - even though just on the sheer quality of writing and the teeming, polyphonic subtextual density it should have. Auster, unlike the authors of the books above, seemed to me to have exhausted himself just when he was supposed to give his story wings.

Somewhere after the fourth life-episode, for me, the three alive Archies began to merge into one another. I fought against the ensuing confusion (like those abominable middle seasons of Lost) by bringing out a notepad and writing little sentence summaries for the incidents to separate them out and then tracking their progression in Auster's worlds. I was adamant to not let this elephant of a book run amok, but on reading my notes back and considering Archie's accumulation of lives, the revealed connections that emerged were at best specious and incident response from different Archies that was at best indistinguishable.

All connections, all those subtextual debates I was having in my time away from the book in its first half with all the imagined projections on Archie's present and future came to a nought as Auster's 60s Americana sheared all Archies with the same blade making them all appear alike (maybe this was the point: history as the great equaliser!). Auster began to pile on one thing after the other without much care, started busying Archie in a very limited concern-sphere (Does Amy love me, Have I written my book yet) with all the connected young-adult solipsistic angst and this seemed a very limited way to constrain the epic premise that was built upon epic divergences "parents' differences/financial circumstances/sexual preferences". Given the fantastical start, to take 4321 only as far as he eventually does seemed a gross disservice to me both to Archie's character and the invested reader. I wanted Auster to send atleast one Archie away, or to fit in a few more phases of life in the latter half to give engine to this out-of-breath obese book pedalling helplessly uphill forcing me to notice the permutations in "authors he read/girls he slept with/movies he watched/university entrance exams he passed", and failing. Basically, I wished it had made a bolder statement of Archie's divergent destinies.

But none of my disappointments take away from the unalloyed joy Auster's prose has given me at various junctures of 4321. There are febrific passages which are written with a mad, punctuation-free intensity (imagine the best of Saramago translations and marry it to best of Rushdie's mad logorrhea) that sent shivers through me. I have wept, had goosebumps, fought the urge to instagram pages with my bold underlines, fought the urge to forward quotes from it, drown dinner table conversations with Archie's fate and what-it-all-means, shouted Bravo!, So True! at my hardback like a loony: my whole mental amphitheatre was alive in 4-D. I have a catalogue of scenes (most from the first 400 pages) that are staged, voiced and narrated with such skill, such earnest emotion, such subtle manipulation: I was in awe of the man who wrote this- case in point the way he articulates (and probably writes himself) into Archie's relationship to art and culture (particularly books and movies)- the whole thing was a thing of beauty. Now I can't wait to eat away all of Auster's back catalogue and find that one book where his fiction creation (and editing) led to a final distillate piece that had him showcased at his best, all the way through.

Heroes of the Frontier
Heroes of the Frontier
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Flight for sanity, 19 May 2017
My wait for Eggers to sweep me off my feet like he did in Hologram for the King will continue but this little hologram for a lost queen from modern American suburbia is not without its own sprinkle of gold-dust. Disenchanted by the thoughtlessness of the civilisation surrounding her, Josie, a young dentist mother from Ohio gets up one day, collects her kids, shoots off to Alaska to begin a journey on a caravan with yet-undecided destination or motive.

It's a courageous little adventure as she is not just a lone vagabond out to "find" herself away from the noise, but also a parent. And a concerned parent at that. One of the continuous threads of this journey is her comically wondering how she will appear to her kids as they walk in on her in various states of physical and psychological nakedness and how she'll be remembered. I found this infinitely endearing: a woman wanting to break away from it all who is also found puppeteering for the theatre of her two minions' memories like she feels every credible parent should. You see her in throes of absolute existential anarchy soothing slowly with a closer discourse with adventure, strangers, music, men and an exotic soil, while also soothing her anxieties of parenthood.

The road trip in its present unfolding is interrupted by streams of consciousness of the past left behind. An ineffectual spouse, an uncalled-for litigation at work, a pending lawsuit for a local mega-plant spewing poison into the air and a suffocating suburbia: Eggers constructs an outrageously unrewarded life for his lead with such force that on returning back to the dinky RV after every little flashback, you want her and her kids to have a good time, you want her to piece herself together. And this emotional connect for me is one of the book's triumphs.

However, after having me on Josie's side, making me intimate with her crazy little habits and investing in her adventure, this literary version of an Alexander Payne-esque screenplay that offhandedly conveys exasperation with current-state-of-affairs in America doesn't quite soar to heights it could have what with Eggers' suddenly writing successive chapters from halfway in muted, very minor keys. Josie's onward journey becomes a bit of a plod after the bandage from all her puncture wounds from the past has been taken off, and while there are forest fires to be fled from, strangers' houses to be broken into and a thunderstorm to be dodged, it all ends in a bit of snug fluff.

I don't know, maybe it was Alaska, which as this impoverished, desolate outpost has been constructed with an eye for its landscape and its smells and does intimidate with its beauty and its squalor in Eggers' prose. However it didn't quite get as deep under my skin as the desertscapes and mysterious strangers with opaque manners of Hologram. Compared to that earlier work with which Heroes has many overlapping themes, the most marked difference is how much more formal, old-school and unexperimental Eggers' writing felt. There were a few instances of some fevered writing, but then it all quietens down to a very stately, inoffensive little trip-on-the-side. I was left feeling like the caged bird revealed to me in the opening chapters wasn't quite released fully.

The Sense of an Ending
The Sense of an Ending
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Stories We Tell, 17 May 2017
I found myself rather taken, sitting beside the geriatric narrator, listening patiently to his trip down the memory of his distant adolescence with some heady and dark entanglements with his three best friends and a tease of a girl. In a whisky-sipping-by-the-fireplace mode, he is seen constructing worthy little aphorisms and bumper-sticker antimetaboles on Time and Life with no clue that the humbling little journey he is set on, he will be re-evaluating his fevered mind's fictions with the chaos and brutality of Real Life. I liked Tony because he's human: he has been slighted and wants karmic revenge on the culprits: it's childish, it's shamefully self-serving but he is honest about it and his curiosity to see what-happened-since when the opportunity presents itself in the form of a letter and a will, kept me engaged.

The beats of the plot, the incident count, while keeping the story-engine on tracks, offered opportunities for contemplation on various themes, which Barnes' is able to sew in nicely with a stream of consciousness that flowed easily. The tone worked for me and even as Barnes' drills in the story screw too tight on the climactic page making the story-board beneath splinter a bit, the ultimate reflection that on being confronted by people who you knew in the past but lost touch with, be ready to be unpleasantly surprised by the paths their intervening life have taken as they're likely to supercede the simplistic fictions churned by your own storytelling mind by a light year.

Its a sweet little reminder for all of us swimming in today's visual and social-media loaded virtual space where one can feel smug about constructing whole life-versions by clicking through new pictures of school colleagues we despised or secretly crushed on or inferring whole life-selves from instagram feeds of celebrities. In truth, we have no idea of the lives lived before, after, behind and beyond the pictures and captions. We probably all know this, but our little fictions offer a spot of vicarious thrill.

Barnes is probably less forgiving to fictions secreted by the human mind, but that serves his shock-and-awe of the story. Beyond it, one might look down upon fostering self-delusions, creating narratives of self-serving nostalgia and various indulgences in easy sentimentality, but these stories we tell ourselves about us and the people we met, knew, and moved away from ultimately keep us sane (never mind that they come constructed from a bias, perception and perspective wholly our own, lone biped self). It's nice to remind ourselves that these fictions-acts of self-preservation and nothing more- need to be kept aside when confronted with a ghost from the past as the holographic chaos of real life has a sweep and current that one person's imagination cannot be expected to surf and tame.

The Dinner Party: Stories
The Dinner Party: Stories

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not impressed, 13 May 2017
I consider Ferris to be one of the more impressive new American fiction-writing talents to emerge in this decade, so it was with great surprise that I found this talented man helming these rather amateur stories that are seen driving the point of quiet desperation with a sledgehammer. Each of the stories, centring around marital strife or exasperation-to-breaking-point from suffocating social obligations and bourgeois conventions, seem to be driven to tick all boxes of a rigorous story brief by some totalitarian editor who'd reject the piece if the subtext and the characters wasn't stated directly to the reader. The exposition crowds in and drowns out all nuance and sensitivity from these adrimably empathic but ultimately bland, bleak fictional documents.

All through for me though, there was a niggling sense that I have dived these depths of suburban malaise with a better instructor before. Richard Yates has already covered this ground so slickly- the quiet tragedy and violence lurking underneath the mannered civility of urban yuppies, the "trapped" married-too-soon couples, the suffocated families drifting in indifferent sprawling American metropolises who wake up one day to find themselves in employment they don't care for, surrounded by kids they can't believe they've had, living in homes they can't believe they have to pay for, the full Thwarted American Dream if you will- that Ferris' admirable but failing attempts to retread it seven decades on made me yearn for Yates suicidal but elegiac prose. Yates' work had characters that spoke in ways I could imagine real despairing people whole and the all-too-obvious anxieties and desperations bled through without the author calling my attention to it again and again. Sadly for Ferris, a master has cast the same concerned, knowing eye over this landscape with a pen that was much more adroit, and a trust in his reader's intelligence that was more encouraging.

Maybe Ferris' talent is better mined for the long form.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 12, 2017 11:18 AM BST

Rossomoka 100 Nespresso Compatible Capsules - Lungo Crema Intenso
Rossomoka 100 Nespresso Compatible Capsules - Lungo Crema Intenso

3.0 out of 5 stars Does the trick, 7 April 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It's only been a week with this modestly priced coffee in crinkle-prone plastic-and-foil pods, and I am quite content with the product. Not overwhelmed by any margin, but content that the pods are not routinely jamming in my charming little nespresso (till now only one out of 30 odd has).

As for the taste, if you are not a coffee aficionado, you'd do okay with the medium-strength concoction ejected. For the price, I am not complaining about the taste as half the charm is the crema which gets delivered with consistency and I am happy with the end product:a barista-standard coffee that's a cut above one from cafetiere/stove-press.

Must recommend all buyers to transfer the pods to a container as they aren't as sturdy as the nespresso ones. Look forward to buying more of these and hopefully the folks at Cialdissima keep up the good jobs and surprise their customers with pods of better/stronger coffee.

The People in the Trees
The People in the Trees
Price: £5.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Curious and unsettling. Admirable and frustrating., 31 Mar. 2017
The adjectives I have studded on the review title for this tome is to mirror the sometimes irreconciliable dualism central to our humanity and for me, the most explicit theme in the recently disgraced Doctor-explorer Norton Perina’s memoirs released by his champion, friend and peer to put the spotlight back to his achievements in science, namely the discovery of ingesting a rare turtle’s meat that makes one immortal (and on cue with the said duality: irredeemably demented).

I’d first like to applaud the book for its sophisticated construction and the elaborate framing that recasts the Unreliable Narrator into something more potent and concentrated: the Unreliable Narrator and his Editor friend. For the reader, the resultant memoir comes doubly parsed and needs an intellectual Enigma machine to read into the commissions, omissions (confessed and unconfessed), sequence of presentation of facts, footnotes to champion or contradict, tone of various justifications and the length of each of these elements. This is, at once exhausting but somewhat rewarding for the reader because it brings to fore the fallacy and tragedy that remains at the core of every autobiography (and biography), not least the ones written with intention to invoke empathy: they remain a mere shadow of the real person who lived, behaved, acted honourably and committed misdemeanours. While the outsiders might confer, hypothesise and conflate from observed external behaviour, the insider is equally handicapped with blind-spots in his/her insight that renders every recounting of life a mere penumbra (and this when we haven’t even begun to account for the mind’s propensity to biases, predilection to creating stories and narratives, linearity etc).

The The People in The Trees has an Insider and an Outsider convinced about the very same presentation of a life lived and felt, and together they are seen to formulate this elaborate exercise in misdirection: a literary camera obscura. They are allowed to fill the bulk of the memoir with the anthropological adventure which for all its glow and glitter of discovering immortality fails to somehow rehabilitate Perina’s legacy as you find yourself slapped with the climactic rushed, short, exasperated, evasive, desperately scrambled chapters with the details of pederasty shuffled right at the end.

This is, by author’s design, a spectacular simulacrum of the life imagined by Perina and his editor-friend. The trouble is, while I admired Yanagihara’s elaborate framing of these smokes and mirrors, and the lengths to which she goes to make the anthropological-medical adventure feel credible (I can probably go at some length at how beautifully she pursues both the sights, the sounds, the smells and the tedium of observing the tribe on the Micronesian isle and how measured, articulate, perceptive and suitably “aged” the retrospective memoir sounds) it cripples the forward momentum by a fair amount (inspite of the immersion she offers the reader), and it does not allow the reader, who is being guided with blindfold-on all the way through by the mellifluous narration of the know-it-all scientist and his steadfast friend, to really feel the moral laxity or relativity that Nabokov very uncomfortably made one wallow in Lolita or Coetzee or Hollinghurst have in some of their works. I say this not because of any voyeuristic curiosity to experience vicariously that mind space but having all the other major plot-peaks are revealed in the premise and the introduction, the elaborate journey whatever the ruse and intent, feels plodding if the point is a character’s moral rot at the core.

What is left for me to ponder over are the tales we tell to ourselves and people we are close to for sanity and the uneasy binary nature that infects everything and renders it bleak: the Micronesian heaven is admixed with tincture of hellish elements, Perina’s path to professional adoration and intense focus comes attached with profane a isolation; the uber-remarkable discovery of the elixir of immortality is mated to wholesale devouring of innocence, nature and all things pure by the ravenous four fanged beast of academia, media, military and government.

But all these themes, while inviting intellectual discourses and distant, familiar pathos of our “fallen” civilisation, packaged as they do in a perspective-stunted monologue ultimately failed to “move” me completely. I wished for a more visceral, emotional response to this book which had all the elements to wrench one but somehow the scenes for this to occur remained off the pages. It could have done with some explicit antagonistic energy. As such, it felt much longer than it was making one bemoan the rococo staging by the author as a regrettable embellishment: yes the very same one that I was privately defending to myself as baroque in the opening pages.

The book is inspired by the life-trajectory of Nobel Laureate Carlton Gajdusek, a personage whose achievements and warped yet eerily normalised opinion on matters of sexual development I was aghast to learn about (for which I am grateful to the book) and my research into his testimonials, online videos and other material about him troubled and challenged me in ways I wished The People in the Trees had.

All things considered though, I still preferred the somewhat-unexplored emotional terrain of this book to the amped-up, relentless emotional maximalism Yanagihara resorted to in her later A Little Life. I continue to wait for the day where I’ll be getting to read a more elegantly composed piece where her prose is able to offer the balance that her deeply fractured characters ache for.

Back to Moscow
Back to Moscow
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun, straight talking but disposable, 29 Mar. 2017
This review is from: Back to Moscow (Kindle Edition)
It's a terrific premise: a young man assigned a thesis on development of the Russian heroine in literature taking upon himself to visiting and spending time with the Russian women of today and finding parallels and/or a better understanding of the Russian soul. The prose, and this is what attracted me to it, is spectacularly lean and sucks you in. We flit between the lead guy, summarising key Russian heroines crafted from the pen of the Greats (Dostyovesky, Tugenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov) and him having banter with two other lads he is bunking with and the girls they casually meet and have sex with. Until the entanglements with the females become more knotted than our chap intended.

And this is where the novel for me started losing his grip. For some reason, I did not feel THAT invested in the lead chap to go with him all the way to an epiphany about the Russian soul. While I enjoyed what the various academics, guys and girls on the street had to say about the Russia they live in at present, the terse snapshots of various journeys taken in and out of Moscow and the continuous parallels drawn between the landscapes, lifestyles, ideologies and mindscapes described in the historical literature with the state now: in Erades' straight-talking, almost journalistic prose, these enquiries do spark alive but when delving into the intimacy and chaos of interpersonal relationships, I found the lead character to be a tad superficially sketched to care that much. Hunter Thompson or George Orwell he definitely ain't. Outside the whole curious social/literary student-experimenter role, he has been given very sparse corporeality.

Part of the reason why I thought Back to Moscow does not work completely is because of it's almost uneasy closeness to Erades' own pursuits. At the best of times, this seems more of an embellished travelogue/diary of a young journalist's experience during an assignment in Russia. I can recollect two instances in the book where the protagonist's friends become curious about whether they'd find themselves in this book about Russia that he is going to write and whether it'd be fiction or non-fiction (how meta!) and while I am on board with the fiction being the road to writing out the index of human experience, the construction of the characters and their inner world to evoke the Russia experience isn't intricate enough for it to become the novel that makes you invest in a trans-national romance while also capturing the poignancy behind the comparative intellectual and existential anaemia of the post-perestroika Russia.

Still for all its worth, there is empathy here, and a self-congratulatory attempt to understand a different culture by first hand engagement and investment of one's self rather than relying on literary theses of the past which I endorsed. There are some amusing interactions, throwaway comments that reveal frustrations and anxieties with the state of politics, economy and culture succinctly without calling attention to themselves and the author's own confidence in using Slavic suffixes and colloqualisms (I could have done with footnotes) does invoke a comfort in the adopted surroundings that makes the socio-cultural experiment feel credible. And it's darn good fun to read

In the end though, this is more of a light ale than a shot of vodka.

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