Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Natasha and Signs and Symbols by Vladimir Nabokov

     I’m in the middle of reading Azar Nafisi’s landmark novel/biography Reading Lolita in Tehran which is about an unusual book club in Iran. As the title suggests, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita plays a huge part of the story and Nabokov himself seems almost like a character in the book; so often is he mentioned, quoted and dissected.  It made me very curious about his work. So, I put aside Nafisi’s novel for a bit and went hunting for Nabokov’s short stories online. Sadly, I could only find two, but I definitely plan to read more of him this year.


     Natasha is a strangely hypnotic story about a young girl who cares for her ailing father. One day her neighbor asks her out for a picnic and she happily goes along since her father seems to be recovering. I really mustn't say anymore because there isn't such a lot in terms of a plot anyway. It may seem predictable yet the ending really surprised me with its abruptness.

Signs and Symbols

     The story begins with an elderly couple choosing a birthday gift for their son who is being treated at a mental health facility. We learn that their son is suffering from ‘referential mania’ which is a form of paranoia where he feels that everything around him is concentrated on his existence alone. His parents reach the facility, only to be told that they cannot meet their son because he attempted suicide again and cannot be allowed to have visitors in this fragile state. The rest of the story follows the parents back home and stays with them through a terribly sad evening. The ending is poignant and so skilfully written.

     I cannot decide which one of the stories I liked more. Both were so haunting and affecting, yet so simple. Nabokov has a way of making up really simple characters, putting them in fairly commonplace situations and yet making the whole thing quite an extraordinary experience for the reader. You can read the stories here and here.

     I can’t decide which of his novels to read first. Lolita is of course his most iconic work, but Invitation to a Beheading sounds very interesting too.  Nabokov has also written a big bunch of short stories.  Anyone read any of these?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

     Continuing with my resolve to read more popular and contemporary books which everyone else in blogland has already read ages ago, I took on The Eyre Affair. I've heard and read a lot about it and mostly good things. I've also heard Fforde compared to Douglas Adams and even the Monty Python crew, but such comparisons do them all a disservice.  The only common ground is a certain irreverence that comes through in all their works. Anyway, back to The Eyre Affair. It’s a bit of a genre-defying variety show and you’ll enjoy it a lot better if you don’t go in with any preconceived notions.

     The Eyre Affair is set in an alternative reality where literature is taken very seriously and Jane Eyre ends very differently. Politics revolves around the ongoing Crimean War and England is almost entirely ‘managed’ by the Goliath Corporation. The heroine, Thursday Next, is a literary detective who is on the trail of evil mastermind Acheron Hades. Hades has stolen the manuscript of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit and is threatening to kill  its central character. What follows is a madcap adventure that defies time, logic, reality and even fiction.

     Based on everything I had heard about it (mainly the constant comparisons to Adams) I expected it to be more Laugh Out Loud funny. It wasn't. It was a fun book, but the humor is not as in- your- face as I had thought it would be. I’m probably not explaining this very well; just don’t expect The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  I’m not complaining though. I thoroughly enjoyed the world Fforde has created here. Which reader wouldn't?  It’s a world where there are coin operated machines that dispense Shakespearean soliloquies and Mr Rochester walks in and out of Jane Eyre. What’s not to love? It’s the perfect adventure/fantasy for a bookworm like me.

     I am eager to read Fforde’s The Big Over Easy. Anyone read any of his Nursery Crimes books? Any good?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

     A very Happy New Year to all of you. I hope 2013 has begun on a positive note for you. I kicked off 2013 with a book shopping spree. My bookshelves are now stocked with more contemporary fiction. As I mentioned in my last post, I would like to read more books that were written in my lifetime. Not that I will be giving up my beloved classics entirely, I could never do that, but I do plan to go a little easy on them. To that end, my first read in the New Year is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I had been reading reviews of this book all over the blogsphere and it’s been on my TBR list for a long while now.

     TGLPPPS is an epistolary novel that starts out sounding a lot like 84 Charing Cross Road (which I love so much), but soon it finds a different arc and there all similarities end. The story takes off when Juliet Ashton, a writer, receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who has a book that once belonged to Juliet. He writes of his admiration for Charles Lamb and also tells her about their strangely named book club and its interesting origins. Juliet begins to toy with the idea of writing about this book club and soon starts to correspond with all the other members of the society. Each of them writes to her about their love for a book or author but most importantly about their lives during and after the German occupation. Juliet soon starts to feel an immense emotional connect with these people. More determined than ever to write about them, she lands up in Guernsey for a visit that ends up a lot longer than she had planned.

     TGLPPPS is a pleasant and easy read. Exactly what I needed after spending so long in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grey and bleak world.  Some of the characters are very well written and the tone of the book is very light and humorous, even though it does deal with the aftermath of the war.  I don’t remember reading anything set in the Chanel Islands before this so I enjoyed the insight into a land I know very little about. A good start to the year’s reading. Hope we all have a lot more great books to read in 2013.