Thursday, March 8, 2018

Crouching Tiger

Despite having far too many books that I can chew, I cannot stop acquiring books. In the month of February, apart from having books that I have purchased from the bookshop and on line, I have received books as gifts as well. Bliss.

 A couple of weeks ago, I had a drink with a friend at a café that serves coffee amongst rows of books belonging to the proprietor, some of them are for sale at various  prices. My friend ended up picking up Bridget Jones Baby for her sister who was about to deliver her second child. I had a quick browse around one of the shelves and in an instant, I picked   out The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman and my friend paid for it - a gift from her for my birthday. Delightful. Both copies that we picked up were in pristine condition and I have to confess that my copy of The Tiger in the Well is no longer as good as new after I have read it.

The fiction is Pullman’s third book in his series entitled ‘The Sally Lockhart Quartet’. While  it is a sequel to The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well can be read as a stand- alone. The narration is straightforward and fast moving.

The story takes place in autumn, 1881. It definitely  had me hooked from its Chapter One  ‘The Process- Server” but  I was a tad  disappointed when I got to the end of the story. Nonetheless the story is a page turner as you need to know who could be after the heroine, Sally Lockhart and when she is on the run, you definitely want to root for her. Sally has a daughter, Harriet who is almost two years old and lives in a large home in Twickenham called Orchard House, ‘a Regency building, open and airy with iron balconies and a glass-roofed veranda facing the garden’. Just as she thinks that she has put behind her troubled past and settled into her new, quiet life as an investor and a  businesswoman, she is served with divorce papers filed by  a commission agent named Arthur Parrish claiming  to be her husband. Parrish, an imposter also claims that he is  Harriet’s father and that Sally has been a bad  and scandalous woman for having taken his money and run away with their child. An unknown evil person has made elaborate plans to steal Sally’s life away from her – her home life and her business. The allegations made by Parrish are wholly untrue and preposterous as Harriet’s father, Frederick Garland has died in a fire. Sally had borne Harriet out of wedlock. Sally goes to a lawyer who seems to focus on the charges stated in the affidavit rather than addressing the issue as to whether Sally was ever married in the first place. Sally writes to Harriet’s aunt, Rosa who is married to a clergyman trying to locate the priest who falsifies the Marriage registration  that has never taken place.
Elsewhere in London, after being driven abroad by the first pogroms, the  Jewish immigrants  from Russia  get off a boat to enter England and when they arrive, they find themselves with no English, no papers and no money.Daniel Goldberg and Jacob Lieberman are two Socialist journalists who are trying to uncover the evil behind the fraud  that is causing a lot of hurt to the Jews who are being systematically fleeced. Dan believes that a paralysed man known as  Tzaddik is the mastermind behind and Parrish is also involved with Tzaddik. The Jewish community is being persecuted in the same plight that is pursuing Sally.She has to find out why Parrish is doing what he is doing and who is behind him. Sally is portrayed by Pullman as a woman who is smart,strongminded and brave. When she puts Harriet in bed, she tells her,
You’re being a good girl. Can you be a brave girl too?”   
The ordeal that puts both Sally and Harriet through has certainly brought them close.
Sally said,
        “And we won’t let anyone be bad to us again, will we?”
         “ Not bloody likely,” said Harriet.

That’s the way to go, Harriet.  Sally Lockhart is the epitome of what a woman should aspire to be.  She is strong in face of trouble and she is kind and also fearless. Happy Women’s Day !

Friday, March 2, 2018

Yesterday Once More

Cambridge, England
Good memory can be a curse if we want to do the forgetting and forgetting is not possible. I have an uncle who  is in his nineties. I remember having this conversation about Japanese restaurants and that there is a grocer in his neighbourhood selling Japanese food products. He told me that he had never stepped into any Japanese restaurant or shop and  would not intend to. He explained that he could not forget what happened during the Japanese Occupation  in World War II. The irony is  that his wife who is my mother's sister is suffering from dementia and she is doing all the forgetting including the pains that her husband might have caused her. 

Whether unwittingly or wittingly we all have selective memory. To keep our sanity, we may consciously choose not to dwell on bad memories, otherwise these bad experiences can stop us in our tracks and prevent us from moving on. Revisitng the past can invite nostalgia for some people and for some others, they wish they could re-write their past. What if you had to keep a journal, what would you like your future self to know about  you ? 
In Yesterday written by Felicia Yap , there are only two categories of people. Monos, the majority , have only one day memory while the elite Duos have two days’ worth of memory. They have to record their days in their iDiaries so they can have a memory of some kind. The question is: Can one be  truthful in their account of their everyday? 

Mark Henry Evans, a novelist and an aspiring politician is a Duo and he is married to Claire, Mono. Mark is vying to be the next MP for South Cambridgeshire. A body has been found in the river behind the Evans' home. Hans Richardson, the detective investigating the case has thought that he would take after Duo Dad and not Mono Mum and one morning , he wakes up and realises that he can’t remember what happened two days ago. It is catastrophic but  Hans continues to masquerade  as a Duo and he  needs to solve the crime in twenty-four hours. The body is one Sophia Alyssa Ayling and she has been involved with Mark for some time. Monos can only remember what happened yesterday and Duos can remember the day before yesterday thus they are regarded as more superior and a class above.Claire is devastated after discovering that her Duo husband has been unfaithful, she is also troubled by the fact that Mark is the prime suspect for the murder. The characters have to rely on their iDiaries to help them understand the past. Claire and Mark have different  account of the past in the life  they have shared together.

As the story unfolds, there are skeletons in their closet. The story takes place in a village near Cambridge and it is narrated in the first person’s voice. Detective Hans is combing through Sophia’s iDiary to solve the crime. He is racing against time.

She’s mad . Positively rabid. Also clueless about the way good detectives operate. But her diary’s strangely compelling. Unfathomable vitriol, when coupled with a healty dose of insanity, has a way of making even a hardened inspector turn pages. I’m inclined to read on, even though her diary has taken up another twenty minutes of my precious time.
    But I need some coffee first. My head is crying out for an injection of caffeine. I get up from my chair, grimacing at the pins and needles shooting up my legs. Just then. Tobt comes rushing in with a pile of papers.
  “ Hans,” he says. “ I’ve tracked down her Barclays records------“
“ Let me guess. She’s flush.”'

Sophia remembers everything thus she is full of vengeance and suffering from the pains that cannot heal despite having spent 17 years in St Augustine, a mental hospital . In order to be certified sound to be released, she had to keep up the façade for the warders by maintaining a iDiary so as to appear “ normal”.

In Sophia’s iDiary, she writes:

‘ Why can’t I be like the other people around me?  Like the Mono housewife who lives next door with her cat and husband. Who wakes up cheerful most mornings. Ready to begin yet another page of her life. Emotionally untainted by the previous pages. Blissful in her selective ignorance.

      She isn’t a prisoner of her unwanted past.
      Will I ever be free from bad memories? Free of the traumas clogging my mind. Swamping it . Weighing it down. Free of the baggage of memory. The burden of remembering. Free of knowing what I do not wish to know. ‘

Sophia also writes in her iDiary ,

Yet bad memories have a stubborn tendency to stick around. The god-awful ones. They refuse to travel down the fuzzy route. They creep back into my mind at the most inaopportune moments. They haunt me in the middle of the night. '

In the story, the Monos and the Duos live in a world where technology defines them.

Technology defines us, whether we like it or not. These days, we are utterly dependent on external devices as repositories of facts, assumptions, and memories. We are but the sum total of our digital presence. We are but the sum total of our digital presence. We use iDiaries and social media networks to define and delude ourselves because they contain what we prefer to remember. What we want the outer world to see. Yet our carefully curated public personae frequently bear like resemblance to our true inner selves. The two faces of our remembered lives are disparate and often contradictory.

                                                            ----“The Curse of Modern Technology”
                                                                          The Guardian, 2 April 2015'

Yesterday is a page turner.  I like it because the story is about love between two people even though their union is disapproved  by the society they live in. It is also about memories and what we choose to believe and things that  we could remember but must forget.....