Sunday, January 24, 2016

What's new?

   I wanted to make a paella out of the rice I specially bought for making paella more than a year ago. I had not been feeling inspired about cooking in recent years. This afternoon when the thought of making a paella struck, I set about making it happen. I was glad that I did not have to drive far to get the requisite saffron and  have a bit of time to hit the independent bookstore which was located in the same shopping mall. The bookstore owner had not seen me for a while so she said, 'Hello it has been a long time.' I explained that I had to stop buying books as I have far  too many books at home,
unread that is .
“ Oh that's no good for me. You have been busy and haven't  got the time to read?”
“ Not really, I just have too many books,”  I responded.

As I was standing in the cram space scanning quickly to see what were available , a man walked out with a carrier bag followed by his daughter and his wife. They were looking delightful and chattered about their find. I gather that  they must be bookish like me as only a bibliophile will understand the joy and anticipation we feel when we pick up books that  we would devour over the weekend. I ended up picking up Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, an author whose books I have been meaning to read.  I  started on it right away after dinner.

Published writers constantly amaze me with their ability to describe a scene, a character and tell stories. Due to their  acute observation, they are candid in their narration and subtle in conveying  their perceptions.  I have recently read  The Imperfectionists by  Tom Rachman. It must have been the title of the book that first caught my attention. The story of The Imperfectionists is  about a newspaper that was founded in Rome in the 1950s and after over fifty years of its circulation, the future looks bleak in light of the internet and the passing of its founder. As the author has been a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, his fiction  gives us some insight into journalism and an authentic account about the workings of the newspaper.

I bought the novel sometime ago. I ended up reading Rachman’s second book “ The Rise and Fall of Great Powersclick before reading his debut novel about the newsroom. Tom Rachman has  cleverly weaved together the stories of those involved in news publication against the challenges faced by the newspaper industry. There are eleven main characters and everyone of the characters is fascinating. The author cleverly spins a story about each of them and successfully humanize the newpaper business with humour and wit.

Amongst these compelling characters , meet  Kathleen Solson, the editor- in- chief as someone who is preoccupied with intelligence and ranking brains, hers in terms of everyone else and Oliver Ott, the reluctant publisher who seems more interested in his basset hound than the struggling newspaper. 

About the business reporter, Hardy Benjamin, Rachman writes,
Hardy spends her morning on the phone to London, Paris and Frankfurt, wheedling quotes from grumpy financial analysts. “Is an interest-rate hike imminent?’ she asks. ‘Is Brussels extending the shoe tariffs? What about the trade imbalance?’

  She is unfailingly courteous even when her sources are not .
‘ Hardy , I’m busy. What do you need?’
‘ I could call back later.’
‘I’m busy now, I’m busier later.’
‘Sorry to be annoying. Just wondering if you got my voice mail.’
‘Yes , I know – you’re doing another China story.’
‘I’ll be quick, I swear.’
‘You know my line on China: “We should all start learning Mandarin. Blah-blah-blah.” Can I go now?’
By midafternoon she has written a thousand words, which is greater than the number of calories she has consumed since yesterday. Hardy is on a diet that started, roughly, at age twelve. She’s thirty-six now and still dreaming of butter cookies.

Tom Rachman's style of writing is fluid. The stories are  brilliantly told with charm. It is definitely a goodread.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Portrait of a union

Words are not losing its significance despite the usage of emoticons and creation of emojis. Words are for articulating one’s thoughts and expressing one’s sentiments. There are different words to describe ambivalence, conflicts and turmoil and they cannot be represented by sheer emoticons. Stories are told with words and there are different ways of telling them. Some fictions are told to entertain, some fictions are told to stir your mind and make you ponder about the characters and get a hold of  your empathy even if you do not find the characters all that  likeable.

When I first read about the release of Fates and Furies, I was intrigued and could not wait to read the fiction although I had never read any writing by its author, Lauren Groff. I was disappointed when I had difficulties getting engaged with the prose which is actually stylish. It could be due to my work load at the time and all that frenzy that was happening at the end of the year, I was too distracted to enjoy it. I brought the novel with me on the year end trip I took with my family and made very little progress. After ploughing through more than half of the book, the characters became more apparent and they are complex and you begin to empathize with their angst and vanity. Mathilde, the female protagonist is tough for self- protection and she is a smart and intelligent woman who holds the marriage together to the envy of others. Such a female character in real life will probably appear cold and  calculating but in a fiction, you cannot help feeling sorry for her when you find out about her childhood and her desperate need to belong to someone. Imagine a loner who has to hide her venomous self and lead a life full of vengeance beneath her.

MATHILDE WAS NOT UNFAMILIAR with grief. The old wolf had come sniffing around her house before.
She had one picture of herself from when she was tiny.
Her name had been Aurélie. Fat cheeks, gold hair. The only child in a large Breton family. Her bags clipped from her face in a barrette, scarves on her neck, lacy socks to her ankles. Her grandparents fed her galettes, cider, caramels with sea salt. The kitchen had rounds of Camembert ripening in the cabinet. It would knock you down to open the door, unsuspecting.’

Lauren Groff’s style of writing is not easy to follow in the beginning but as the story unfolds in  a random manner and not in chronological order , you will find that her prose is beautiful and you would like to read the earlier chapters again. It feels like doing a jigsaw puzzle as you put together all the interesting parts.

Here is another excerpt from the book.

 ONE DAY, the little girl she once was , small Aurélie , found herself with a blue suitcase in her hand and her hair scraped back from her face. She must have been five or six.
 “You’ re off to your Paris grandmother’s,” her tall Breton grandmother said. There had always been something off about the Paris grandmother, something embarrassing; her own mother had never spoken of her; they had rarely talked on the phone. Aurelie had never met her. There were never pretty parcels from that grandmother on her saint’s day.
   They were standing in the aisle of a train. The grandmother’s frown stretched to her second chin. “ Your mother’s mother was the only relative who would take you,” she said.
Mathilde is married to Lotto aka Lancelot Satterwhite whose acting career is not going well until one New Year’s Eve when she discovers that Lotto has written a play that has ‘the bones of a marvel in it’.  As he becomes a playwright, she assumes the role of the perfect wife who is extremely supportive of  his artistic talent and writing pursuits. Lotto’s character alternates between depression and manic energy. His wealthy family believes that he is destined to be great but his relationship with his mother is estranged. Against Lotto’s self-centredness, Mathilde appears self sacrificing and never unkind.

YOU’RE A PATHOLOGICAL TRUTH-TELLER,” Lotto once said to her, and she laughed and conceded that she was. She wasn’t sure just then if she was telling the truth or if she was lying.

Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silences, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.

She didn’t tell him that she never minded being the breadwinner during the long span of their twenties, even the poverty, even the skipped lunches and the suppers of rice and beans, even the shifting of money from one tiny account to pay off the most pressing bills, even accepting mney from Lotto’s little sister, who gave it because she was one of the few people in the world who were truly good. His gratitude for what he thought was Mathilde’s sacrifice indebted him to her.’

As a title for the book,  Fates and furies is spot on. The story is about  feminine fury and repressed anger. It  does carry the undertone that  life is unkind to a girl who does not follow rules and being canny is how  a woman  keeps a marriage in place.

The author quotes from the Little Prince ,
  ‘Where are the people? said Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. It’s a little lonely in the desert. ..
It’s lonely when you’re among people, too, said the snake.’

The world  is made of sad stories, many evil people and some not so evil not so bad people and very few very good people. Life is complicated.

San Sebastián