Month: December 2015

The Girl On The Train, by Paula Hawkins

Confession time: I first picked The Girl On The Train up a few months ago and did not finish it then, because I felt it was moving too slow for my tapaula-hawkins-girl-train-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookste. Plus, I assumed it was yet another one of those over-hyped runaway hits. I remember it was being touted as the next Gone Girl or something (for the record, I haven’t read Gone Girl).

Big, big mistake, I gotta say! This book is spine-chillingly, goosebumps-rendering-ly brilliant! (apologies for the weird adverbs). I should not have abandoned it the first time.

The Girl On The Train is the story of Rachel Watson, who, after going through a bitter divorce, sinks into deep depression and alcoholism. She is fired from her job, but she cannot bring herself to admit this to Cathy, her roommate. So she takes a train to London every morning, pretending to go to work and returns every evening. From the train, she can see her old house, the one she shared with her husband Tom Watson, where he now lives with his new wife, Anna, and their daughter Evie. A few doors down is another house – of a young couple, who look very much in love to Rachel. She observes them every day, names them Jess and Jason. Their real names are Megan and Scott Hipwell. One day, Megan goes missing, and Rachel gets embroiled in the mystery, because she is convinced she knows something about the disappearance, but she cannot piece it together because of memory loss caused by her drinking habit.

This is a story filled with darkness. Brilliantly written, through multiple POVs, following a non-linear sequence. It’s frightening that despite the flaws of all the characters, in an odd way, I could relate to them all! Creepy, right?

Very few authors surprise me any more. I am not boasting, but I’ve read several well-received thrillers where I could figure out the ending from a mile away. Honestly, I expected the same from this book, what with my mind all clouded with, “Oh this is just one of those…” but I got engrossed, and the ending just came at me like a… well, like a train (sorry, couldn’t resist!) I did not expect that! Shocking and superb.

Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5

Buy it on Amazon.

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The Bestseller She Wrote, by Ravi Subramanian

ravi-subramanian-the-bestseller-she-wrote-rain-and-a-book-sreesha-divakaranI don’t read a lot of Indian authors. When I say “Indian authors” I mean the commercial, “masala” churners, not the serious crust, whom I simply refer to as authors. I had heard of ‘The Bestseller She Wrote’ because of a Twitter promo campaign, but I did not look it up or anything. I had never read any of Ravi Subramanian’s works prior to this, so I did not know what to expect. So when I received the book for review, my mind was a blank slate.

Well, not entirely; from my first sentence you have probably gathered I do have some preconceived notions about commercial authors. I am especially wary of Indian banker-turned-authors. But I kept an open mind, so as to be able to give this book the fair review it deserves.

Summary: Aditya Kapoor, nicknamed “paperback king”, “rockstar author” and other embarrassing (but seemingly glitzy) things is a 40-something banker and India’s # 1 commercial author. He gives a presentation at IIM-B, his alma mater, where he encounters is insulted by Shreya Kaushik, a student miffed by the fact that Aditya keeps referring to his book as a “product” (I echo her sentiments, by the way). Aditya’s gigantic ego takes a hit and he tells her to read his books before commenting. She does, and becomes an overnight fan. Shreya considers herself to be a voracious reader (she’s not; she only reads bestsellers, and she reads John Green only cos he’s “cute”) She also wants to become an author, and she seduces Aditya to help her become one. It is unclear whether she seduces him for her gain alone or if she is actually in love with him. (Actually, several things are unclear, but I am getting ahead of myself) Aditya is completely smitten, forgetting totally about his wife, Maya and 6-year-old kid, Aryan (could these names be more Bollywoodesque?). No, wait, he does not, because on every other page he tells us he loves his wife. And also Shreya. And also his wife. But anyway. Later, Maya comes to know of the affair and contracts Ebola at the same time. Aditya ends things with Shreya, and begs Maya to take him back. Shreya goes crazy, because of course.

As I was reading The Bestseller She Wrote, the very first connection I made was to an interview of Robert Pattinson, where he says that when he first read Twilight, “it seemed like I was convinced Stephenie was convinced she was Bella.” That is the exact same thought I had. I mean no disrespect to Ravi Subramanian, but it seemed like Aditya Kapoor, the author in this book, and his star-studded life, was what the author aspired to reach some day. At least the first half of the book.

Let’s look at that statement again – when was the last time you read the words “star-studded life” and “author” in the same sentence. It is so far-fetched. There is nothing in this book that convinces me of this.

Next, the writing. The narrative is sparse, the language is rife with Indianisms, repeated stock phrases, slangs in content, and on the whole, it feels like a lazy attempt, like something written in a hurry. With respect to slangs, while they are accepted in dialogue, it’s just poor writing in narrative – unless the book is written in a first person narrative and the character in question needs to describe a certain sort of lifestyle, which isn’t the case here. Slangs when used incorrectly provide unintentional humour. For instance, there was a sentence “Aditya was chilled.” Aditya is not a beer! For crying out loud, what sort of a sentence is that! The dialogues did not sit well with me on any level, because it felt – I don’t know what exactly, but the word that comes closest to describing it disjointed. Also, in dialogue when you want to stress a word, you italicize it, not capitalize it. Come on, this is not Twitter and you’re not a troll.

There are also several inaccuracies in the book in terms of facts; right off the top of my head – there was a mention of a book and they mentioned its author to be Sydney Sheldon. Having read every book by Sheldon between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, I knew there was something wrong here. I looked it up, and yes, it was a Tilly Bagshawe book (the Sydney Sheldon fanfic writer)

This book has 84 chapters, and it’s 390 pages long. I have read books with over 1000 pages that have, like, 19 chapters, filled with substance. This, on the other hand, is well padded out and airy. The characters are not likeable. Actually, no, I have read books where characters are outright evil, and I have had more emotion for them than I have had anybody in this book. This book is just an ego balm to its (dislikeable) protagonist. Everyone is a huge fan of his. There are scenes, which otherwise contribute nothing to the story, written only to show the reader how big of a boot-licking audience this man has. I can’t find myself caring for any of these characters, they’re so pointless in the world of literature.

One of the funniest bits is, the author has briefly mentioned himself in the book. He has also mentioned several of his contemporaries, thrown a bit of shade at Chetan Bhagat (but then, who doesn’t?) and turned Bollywood bigwigs into characters. (Also, a lot of glaring endorsements for several brands, all of which will make this book terribly dated a few years down the line)

On the whole this book is boring, predictable and highly “putdownable.” I can’t think of a single redeeming quality, except that it doesn’t take up too much of your time, 84 chapters notwithstanding. It tries too hard, and that just made me sad. Like the kid whose answers are all wrong, but has a neat handwriting. Although I have never “pity-rated” a book before, I am going to rate it a 2, instead of a 1 for this reason alone.

If you still wanna read it, here are the links where you can buy it from (while I severely judge you):

Amazon

Flipkart

PS: I just noticed, it’s listed under Suspense & Thriller on Flipkart. Don’t let that fool you.

I am reviewing ‘The Bestseller She Wrote’ by Ravi Subramanian as a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books! 

 

 

The Drunk-Writing Myth #MondayMusings

The Internet is la-la-wonderland of wrongly-attributed quotes. Obviously you can’t trust them all nor can you go around verifying everything you hear. And sometimes, mis-attribution can be very bad for your health, and even more detrimental to your writing. Case in point:

Write drunk. Edit sober.

-Not Hemingway

If you have been writing for a while, chances are you have seen this quote or a variation of it. But the truth is, Hemingway never said that. He just gets a lot of stuff attributed to him. However, the theory expressed in that quote seems to be advocated by a lot of writers (at least according to the internet). Some say it is metaphorical (a thought more comforting than -) while others say it is literal. I have read that Stephen King wrote Cujo while drunk or on drugs or something and does not have any memory of writing the novel. I don’t know how true this statement is. Nor have I read Cujo, but if Rachel’s reaction to the adaptation is anything to go by, I am gonna say drugs and horror seem to mix well:

rachel-and-joey-watching-cujo-o

So great for those writers that drunk-writing worked for them because it did not for me.

I could say I was merely performing an experiment based on these theories and writer stories. But that would not be the truth. The truth is: it was a fun Friday night.

This was about a year or so ago. I sat down to write after returning home – rather perfunctorily, I must add. I don’t remember what I wrote, much like King and Cujo. But the difference is, there was no option to go back and edit what I had written. Because you see, I was not sitting at my desk and politely “writing.” I was tweeting. Which was good and bad, as you will see below.

I had recently discovered Friday Phrases on Twitter (I don’t write those anymore (reasons beyond the scope of this post), but here are my archives) and I was making an effort to post my ideas every week no matter how senseless they were. This incident occurred on the second or third week.

The next day, my phone was still vibrating with retweets.

My head began to throb when I read my “gems” and that was certainly worse than any hangover. Drunk people are generally funny to be around, but when I read what I had written, the realization hit me that I could be incredibly boring. I had never, in all my wide travels, read anything so <insert most descriptive adjective ever> boring. It was the kind of writing that made watching grass grow look far more interesting. It’s a shock really, that commas and full stops were in all the right places (that, some people might say, is yet another form of boring)

The good (wonderful) news was – it was not something humongous being published, nor a page from something humongous that I may have wasted time on; it was just microfiction – forgotten in microseconds. The bad news was – unlike my other super-unpopular tweets, these were being RT’d a lot by the FP community. They are a fun, supportive group, but I really wanted to drown myself.

I hurriedly deleted all those tales. I needn’t have bothered because they had already been read by a lot of people (FP has grown since then, but the readership was substantial even back then). What you write sets the tone for people’s expectations of you, so you see my worry? But either way, I learned a valuable lesson for the far-off (possibly mythical) day in future when I begin my novel: I am never writing nor editing drunk.

Linking to #MondayMusings

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

tina-fey-bossypants-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-a-bookEveryone should head over to a bookstore (or Amazon) and get a copy of this book, like, right now.

I approach celebrity memoirs the same way I approach celebrity perfumes – by staying as far away from them as possible. Perhaps I am snooty when it comes to my literature and my fragrances, I don’t know. But I read a few excerpts of Tina Fey’s Bossypants on GR, and I just knew I had to read the whole thing. While we’re on the subject, may I add that I also got a copy of Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Big changes in my life, who knows, I might step out and buy something from Lady Gaga’s range of perfumes. Holy hell, that’s adventurous!

This book will leave you in splits! I maintain a stoic expression when I read gore mysteries in public (I try really hard anyway). This is probably the only book I’ve read that’s from a genre on the other end of the line. I tried hard to maintain the same Master Shifu expression while reading Bossypants, but I have to say, it was really hard. People stared, I am not proud to say (ok, a little proud, on Tina Fey’s behalf) Here’s a bit from the first page:

If you’re a woman and you bought this book for practical tips on how to make it in a male-dominated workplace, here they are.

Perhaps you’re a parent and you bought this book to learn how to raise an achievement-oriented, drug-free, adult virgin. You’ll find that too.

Maybe you love Sarah Palin and you want to find reasons to hate me. We’ve got that!

Maybe it’s seventy years in the future and you found this book in a stack of junk being used to block the entrance of an abandoned Starbucks that is now a feeding station for the alien militia.

Here’s another bit that I really loved, but I must add it was mostly nervous laughter. Why, you ask? Because when I read it, I could picture my son in the scene and I just knew she was right.

Right now, my daughter’s not scared of my husband or me at all. I think it’s a problem. I was a freshman home from college the first time my dad said, “You’re going out at ten p.m.? I don’t think so,” and I just laughed and said, “It’s fine.” I feel like my daughter will be doing that to me by age six.

How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety.

This book covers the story of Tina Fey’s father (a formidable man, also, Don Fey in the above excerpt), her life at SNL, her husband’s fear of flying, her daughter, 30 rock, and a life filled with adventures and disasters. Her quirky, self-deprecatory humor makes this book one of the best I’ve read. There are jokes, there is feminism, there are parenting stories (along with a “prayer for my child” which was excellent (not in a serious and religious way))  there are stories of friendship; basically, I think Tina Fey is now one of my role models! I know I don’t go out of my way to read funny books, as you all probably know, but this is one book I would recommend to everyone.

Trivia: Bossypants won GR’s Readers’ Choice Award under the Humor category in the year it was released.

Get it here:

Amazon

(PS: If in Bangalore, you will find amazing discounts on this book at Blossoms Book House on Church Street. Just saying.

Ok, kinda pushing you really hard to go and buy it.

Just buy it, ok?)

Shantaram, by David Gregory Roberts

sreesha-divakaran-shantaram-rain-and-a-book-gregory-david-robertsAhhh. Hmmm. Wow. I feel like I’ve just woken up from a long dream. Like, really long. It took me so long to finish this that in the meantime, David Gregory Roberts even released its sequel!

Sometime in the year 2009, the bibliophiles in my circle (few in number, but still) were all discussing Shantaram. The opinion was so deeply divided that wars often broke out between those who liked it and those who did not. Well, “like” and “did not like” are putting it mildly. They either went all out to murder anyone who spoke a word against it or they slaughtered whoever liked it.

My point is – this book evokes strong emotions in otherwise rational people.

I also got my copy in 2009, by the way, in December. That’s six years ago. And I picked it up in October ’15, right after I finished The Dark Tower Series. Truth was, I was worried I wouldn’t like it. It’s a big book (understatement of the year); I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest so much time and ending up in the latter group – the haters club.

I read the first few pages. I surprised myself by liking it a great deal! In fact, the first few pages, I was so enthralled by it that I went around recommending it to anyone who would listen (If anyone reading this review was one of those people, well, I apologize if that annoyed you, but I hope you took my advice). Told you the book evokes extreme and bizarre emotions.

This is the story of Lin (David Roberts states it is autobiographical), a man who escapes from a maximum security prison in Australia and arrives in India with a fake passport. He is a wanted man, but he eludes the police, lives in a slum and sets up a little clinic for the slum dwellers, and also sets up a little school for the slum kids. He gets involved with the underworld, and learns all about the Mumbai mafia.

The book, if I were to be frank with you, is like a magic pot of rice – one that finds mention in all the great mythologies – one that gets refilled on its own no matter how much you feel you’ve eaten. It’s like the page count does not seem to matter, and no matter how many pages I read each day, I could not seem to be crossing the 50% mark. Which was strange, cos looking at it, I could swear I had read more than that!

Up to the 50% mark, I have to say, it was an excellent story. Excellent, and I mean it. No other word for it. After that, I felt it needed an editor. David Roberts has mentioned every minute detail in his story as Lin, regardless of its relevance. Post the 50% mark, I admit, I skimmed through some of it and I still found I had not missed much.

Despite that, it was thoroughly captivating – Lin/David/Shantaram’s love for India is something that leaps at you from the book and sort of settles beneath your own skin – in a good way. I don’t think I have read any other book that shows so much love for the land it is set in. I found similarities between Shantaram and Maximum City. Maybe because both explore the un-pretty, outright grisly and shady side of Bombay. But the difference is, Maximum City’s tone sounds apologetic, like it’s trying too hard to please. On the other hand, Shantaram pleases the reader effortlessly. The Mumbai in both the books is essentially the same, but the one in Shantaram just finds a way to your heart.

The language used is… interesting. Here’s the thing, metaphors can make prose look glorious when used right – but there’s a time and place to use them. If someone is being beaten up, or if there’s been a murder or something, do not, just don’t. It sounds funny. David Roberts’ prose is deep and lyrical most of the time. Other times his metaphors cross over from purple to ridiculous territory. For instance, what is “words passing through the rumbling gemstone-tumbler of his throat”? And don’t even get me started on a certain chariot!

Another thing I found out of place (or drivel-ly, if you will) is that Roberts can speak at length on utterly ordinary things. Somewhere in the middle of the book, there are two whole pages about evenings. Two. Whole. Pages. The evening’s beautiful, we get it, enough already! And the number of adjectives he’s used for the green eyes of Karla, the woman he loves – wow. I mean, dude, you’re… wow.

I don’t belong to the group that will rip your throat out if you say anything against the book (believe me, people who like this book are crazy passionate about it) but I will tell you it’s a damn good story. Non-fiction or not, exaggerated or not, it is good. I was not lying when I said I felt like I woke up from a dream – it’s not just the time taken, but also the fact that this book made me travel with Lin. I saw his life like I had lived it. The ending was beautiful and apt – a fitting closure that this epic novel deserved.

If you’re not daunted by the page  count, and if you’re willing to overlook the fact that this book could have used some editing, then do pick it up.

Rating: 3.5/5

Available here.

PS: Did I mention that Lin has a lot of philosophical conversations (with every other character in the book)? He does, and you’ll find a lot of great lines in there.

 

 

Real World, by Natsuo Kirino

sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-a-book-book-blog-real-world-natsuo-kirinoReal World is the story of five teenagers – a boy who murders his mother and four confused girls.

The premise holds (some) promise, but there are several things wrong with this story. I cannot wrap my head around oh-so-many things. I am simply gonna break it down, and you can analyze the parts out of it.

Usually, if the book was originally written in a different language (in this case, Japanese) and I am reading a translation, I give it the benefit of the doubt – a lot can get lost from the original, and we cannot blame the author for it, because unless we read the book in its original language, we can’t find out if this is indeed how it was intended.

Let’s talk about the good: We have five characters, and there is a lot of darkness in this book. It can get depressing and it will cause you to think about topics such as suicide, angst, and the tough decisions teenagers sometimes have to make (like, in the case of one of the girls, her decision to come out as a lesbian).

Now let’s talk about the bad, which is everything else.

First and foremost, the boy – Worm. He murders his mother. There is all the evidence pointing to it. He admits it unabashedly to anyone who would listen. His face is plastered all over the internet. The news of the murder is all over the newspapers and TV. There are police officers and detectives swarming over the place. He keeps making calls to the four girls. He keeps stopping at convenience stores.

Tell me how does this boy outrun the “long arms of the law”? How does he escape so easily, without even trying hard? He didn’t even have a plan! Is it that easy to commit murder?

Next the girls. Oh dear, so. Many. Inner. Monologues! I mean, Why! Here’s how the whole book is narrated: Chapter 1: Girl 1: Part 1: Detailed description of who she is, how she is, why she is the way she is, how none of the other girls know this. All this is written in first person. The four girls Toshi, Terauchi, Kirarin and Yuzan hang out together and pretend to be best friends, but I think they also hate each other, cos the inner monologues actually sound like the voice of a self-centred, whiny bickerer. You don’t even read it with the guilty pleasure of sneaking into someone’s diary. I don’t know if that’s just bad translation, but think about this – there has been a murder. You’re all got pulled into the aftermath and are even being questioned. With this in mind – how is it possible for you all to be so self centred?

All the girls think they have “secret lives” (nothing hardcore – just regular stuff like secretly partying after school or whatever) but all the other girls can see right through them and think they know nothing about life.

Another thing which bothered me is the complete and utter hatred towards men. I understand the characters are angry – they were groped on public transport, and assaulted or hit on by boys who considered them to be “dumb girls” – horrible things that happen to girls all over the world, sadly. One of them was cheated on by her boyfriend, another is a lesbian – but the anger towards all men all over the world is so palpable that I am unable to distinguish between the voice of the author and the voice of the character(s). Yes, these sort of incidents make us all wary, but do we end up hating everyone? If a book so blatantly generalized and insulted women, we would not take it kindly, would we? I know I wouldn’t. For instance several writers and ancient philosophers were anti-women (all the religious texts come to mind). This is like that – but reversed.  All I am saying is, same rules apply both ways – you do not denigrate whole groups based on the actions of a few. Also, one of the characters is so angry with her ex, that she gets Worm to call him up and threaten to rape the ex’s new girlfriend. So we have one character that murdered his mother, and another (a girl) who wants to get someone to rape another girl. This is all so messed up.

And in between all this hatred, all the girls want the attention of one boy – the murderer.

I am gonna let that settle in.

 

Yeah, so despite the fact that none of them really know him, they are so fascinated (WTF?) that they all help him out in one way or the other.

The dialogues in this book are so wooden, they don’t play out right in your head. The whole time I was going, “People don’t talk like this!” But that’s probably just the translation that’s bad.

This whole book is messed up YA. It is not noir or crime or anything – it hardly focuses on the crime – and I want to shout this out from rooftops! – it’s just YA that makes little sense.

Frankly, I had a lot of expectations from Natsuo Kirino, having heard a lot of good things about her. Maybe I should try some of her other works.