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Have you heard of absurd literature? No? Yes? Or are you waiting for Godot to tell you about it?

But Beckett isn’t the only author writer of absurd literature. The best representative of course, but there is always room for more, room to explore right? You don’t wanna be homogeneous right?

And so in comes the play, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” written by the American author Edward Albee. The plot is nothing complicated: it is simply a story about two couples: Martha and George, the older couple,who invite Nick and Honey (the younger couple) for a late night drink after a party. The play is divided into 3 acts each with their telling titles.

But in the fairly uncomplicated plot, lies a whole new insight into the trying, absurd, fragile and strained relation of Martha and George. During the course of the party, emotional games are played, secrets are revealed through the complex layering of the plot. It is clear right in the first part that their marriage is a complete breakdown and in order to sustain it, they have to play psychological games and try to beat the other down through humiliation and fear tactics. In order to sustain the normative marriage they have to take on absurd tactics and at the heart of this is the constant mention of their son who never appears in the play but is talked about throughout.

The play then is trying to critique the pressures put on every individual to fit into roles the society prescribes without giving alternatives and how utterly disastrous these pressures can be if and when such normative modes of living don’t work out. What do you do if your marriage does not work, when your dreams of professional greatness do not go according to plan? Compounding this problem is also the gender roles enmeshed within these prescriptive notions: the binary of production and reproduction that binds a woman and man not allowing them to explore other possibilities and compelling to view their inability to fit into the gender roles as a failure for themselves. So for example, if a man is not able to get a good job and sustain his family, he is viewed as a failure because of the pressure on him to be the breadwinner of the family. He is not allowed to think that there can be a possibility for allowing the women in his life to share the responsibility of earning. Marriage and career and having a family are projected as the ideal modes of living in a human society and so there are no other possibilities provided for other modes or alternatives. Anything less than the ideal is unacceptable and worse, a failure. This can lead to utter breakdown of your identity and selves as every individual is conditioned for long about these ideas and how they are the measures of success and when don’t work, your very idea of what a life should be is dismantled and therefore living becomes absurd and meaningless.

The play is also a lot about the typical modernist ideas of how language is inadequate to express the breakdown of lives in the 2oth century.

In the hazy daze of alcohol that the couple immerse themselves into, the reader will be pressed to figure out reality from illusion but that is the charm and bitterness of the play. You have to keep constructing the truth, taking cues from their wild language, and wilder games of psychological torture, construct the world that they have constructed for themselves and shatter that illusion and then get to know the truth of their lives. But it isn’t like a mere detective novel where you solve the puzzle with the one sole truth you can divine from the plot. It constantly keeps you in a flux and you can probably get the truth but perhaps not be able to anything with it because though the play tries to sort out its loose ends end finish with a proper closing, the reader is left to ponder on what will happen to the marriages of both the couples as the breakdown of the the older couple seems complete although they are now trying to get back on a stable & non illusory path. However, Nick and Honey see in the older couple their own expectations of a marriage and a family and if these expectations are not fulfilled, then will they also fall apart at the seams like Martha and George?

No one can really tell but what we can do is perhaps not put the weight of all our expectations on one person and one institution?  What do you think? Leave a comment.

Satire is a style which helps us to reflect on the ills of our society. It makes us sit up and take notice of things that we might have otherwise taken for granted. Satire pokes fun while also eliciting an engaging response from the audience. It reveals a picture of things which we know exists but often ignore. It is undoubtedly a powerful tool to attack the system or simply the way things are or are taken for granted.

This is the style which Jane Austen also employs in her famous novel ‘Pride And Prejudice.’ Austen gives to her reader a delightful, detailed account of upper middle and middle class lives, their hypocrisy, artificiality and preoccupation with marriage. Simultaneously, she also lightly satirizes all these aspects, but unfortunately the satire is so subtle that it is invisible so that the novel appears nothing more than an interesting love story.

In a line, ‘Pride And Prejudice‘ is a story of the Bennetts’ rather mama Bennett’s measures to get her daughters married in good, respectable houses much like ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ or the plot lines of numerous of our own soap operas. However, the novel lacks the exuberance and comedy of the film/musical. The novel is really nothing more than that one line description. While numerous critics have upheld the novel as a good satire, lauded her writing style and attention to detail, I beg to differ. The critics are spot on about the last two aspects but the first one is laughable (no pun intended). The fact that Austen is mocking artificial pretensions of decorum and niceties is overshadowed by the marriage factor of the novel. It is the overriding theme of the plot and her satire or mocking tone just isn’t enough to gloss over that. Austen doesn’t do justice to her satirical technique. The book rather than making fun of marriage, endorses it grandly as being the sole aim if a girl’s life.

Pride And Prejudice‘ is an enjoyable read, nonetheless. But it really does not promote any revolutionary ideas about womanhood or marriage as many critics have diligently pointed out over the years. It is a light read, an ordinary love story with intricate detail and good writing but not good ideas. Enjoy the story, the characters, the relationships, the scandals but don’t expect ‘Pride And Prejudice‘ to change your ideas about marriage and other things that are stereotypically associated with it.

Love is complex, we all know but definitely not as complex as D.H. Lawrence makes it to be in his gigantic novel, ‘Women In love.’ Not only is it massive, but Lawrence just makes every idea extremely complex which makes it quite difficult to read the novel. Infact when it came out in the 1920s’ people then also said that they found the book too difficult to read. And it definitely is even till now because I forced myself to finish the book as I hate leaving books unfinished no matter how bad they are.

Taken from goodreads.com

Ok, first, lets clear one misconception that one gets because of the title: ‘Women In Love’ is not a book about lesbian love! It does have references to homosexuality but it is definitely not the main focus!

Now that that’s cleared up, let us go to the plot. ‘Women In Love‘ begins with two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen who discuss about marriage. The former is a teacher while the latter is an artist. They live in Midlands in England and on one occasion, the sisters meet two men, Gerald Crich- an industrialist who owns coal mines- and Rupert Birkin who is a school inspector. There is also Hermione Granger um sorry I mean Hermione Roddice who was a love interest of Rupert. These five become sort of friends who practically do nothing except discuss difficult, intellectual things that helps them in no way to make a head or tail out of the issue they are discussing. These discussons seem to be the only thing they do beside attending parties and all that!!! They are profound at times, not the parties I mean, but the discussions, but get really boring because the plot doesn’t move forward quick enough. Ursula falls in love with Rupert while Gudrun falls in love with Gerald but the quartet is too thick headed to admit they are in love and go about having rambling, pointless discussions before even admitting it!!! I dont even know how Ursula and Birkin end up getting married but they do(Somehow!). Meanwhile Gudrun and Gerald are vacationing in the Alps. I think it is over there that Gudrun strikes a friendship with Loerke, a fellow artist from Dresden.

Loerke is my favorite character in the novel. He is quirky and so witty. Well, he is quirky in a good way! All the other characters are also quirky but in a stupendously intellectual,boring, complex,roundabout manner! Loerke is direct and straightforward and has no pretensions!

Well, now we are digressing! Well  I am not giving  away the end of the book because it is would be truly a spoiler to tell you all what happened to the quartet’s love story. Go read the end for yourselves!

Women In Love‘ was not an enjoyable book and I labored really hard to complete it. D.H Lawrence threw several complex notions and ideas about so many things with Rupert being his mouthpiece. His writing is very Victorian despite it being written in 1920s. But that is the best part of the book-his writing. The descriptive style makes so many things in the book come alive such as the quartet’s intimacy, their perplexity over life and love, their constant discussions,the industrial cum countryside setting, the parties and the best part-Gudrun’s friendship with Loerke.

Women In Love‘ does question a lot of things mainly at least the notions of love with a woman and a man. Then the process of industrialization seen through the eyes of Gerald. There is almost a Futurist fascination with machines and Gerald in general comes across as a misanthrope. Changes in the aaspects of British countryside brought about by industrialization are also pointed out through Gudrun and Ursula’s conversations and will be more pronounced if one reads, ‘Rainbow’ before reading this novel as the former is a prequel to the latter. Women’s empowerment is also sketched out but still the two women protagonists are more or less dependent on the men but they still are quite bold, strong characters.

I would not recommend ‘Women In Love’ namely because it is tedious, slow in pace and tooooo much strain on the brain!!!! Although any voracious reader is free to take it up!

‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ written by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi is a beautifully conjured novel, a moving tale of singular people and their extraordinary lives.

Taken from scholarswithoutborders.in

The novel begins in the early 1900s’ with Anuradha’s story. She is going from her hometown Udaipur to Mumbai to meet Vardhaman Gandharva, a potential marriage partner. Just when it seems that things may not work out, Vardhaman openly admits his love for her and they predictably get married. Their love blossoms splendidly like a lovely flower. However, later, an unforeseen tragedy strikes them both tearing them asunder and changing Vardhaman irrevocably. Anuradha goes back to Udaipur where she dabbles and masters over the music and the wondrous songs that are an integral part of her soul. In the course of this stay, she meets other extraordinary people like Nandini who is an unusual artist and an even unusual woman having her own tragic tale. Will Anuradha and Vardhaman overcome the tragedy that ripped them apart? Will their love blossom fruitfully once again or will it be lost forever?

‘The Last Song of Dusk’ abounds with comparisons which increases the depth of the emotions, thoughts, situation etc., helps in understanding it better. The novel is replete with romanticized descriptions. Sanghvi has a very flowery style of writing. He infuses great grandeur and oodles of opulence not only in the story’s setting but also in the copious descriptions. Everything in the novel is exquisite. There is great abundance whether it is the character’s emotions, the royal settings of Udaipur or British city of Bombay or just the  physical beauty of a human. Everything is made out to be insanely beautiful and he uses exquisite words and expressions to convey that beauty to the reader. For eg, pashmina of exquisite remembrances. (pg. 80). There are instances of magic realism suffused in the story. Sanghvi has also made music an important part of the story. It is manifested literally in the many songs, symphonies and musical instruments that are described. There is also a certain kind of vibrant and even melancholic musicality in Sanghvi’s writing that is hard to miss or dislike.

There are certain sexist stereotypes that the books has-like Anuradha’a need for marriage, the tiffs between her and her mother-in-law etc.  Granted that the book is set in the 1900s’ where woman were treated inferior but if Anuradha can be bold enough to leave her husband’s house, Sanghvi should have been bold enough to write something more than the overemphasized importance of marriage in a woman’s life.

Leaving that one negative point aside, ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is undoubtedly a marvelous debut that spins together a lavish, grand love story that is bound to charm any reader. It is not the usual tale of love and sorrow, of man and a woman being in love, being happy, having troubles and reconciling them. It is much more as it infuses a portrayal of different sides and aspects of that one ubiquitous emotion called love. The novel reflects and gradually reveals layers and layers of that emotion between Anuradha and Vardhaman and other characters too like their son-Shloka or Nandini’s  idea of love and safety etc. The reader, if attentive enough, can easily pick on these ideas, learn that love can have two sides just like anything else and know that it can teach us all one lesson or two.

Its a poignant love story that depends on the stark emotions for its narration; its beauty, its invulnerability, its vulnerability, its magic, its pain and countless other things. It is  painfully beautiful, musical and aptly touches the right chord in the reader’s heart. ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is one story that will be in the reader’s heart long after its been perused.

 

‘Love Story’ by Eric Segal is a famous romance bestseller. Its an unusual love story with bouts of unusual romance coupled with a touch of sadness. It is a short book, almost a novella and can be read in no time.

Taken from hachette.com.au

Oliver Barrett IV is a descendant of a rich, old family and he is a Harvard student who wants to pursue a career in law. Oliver falls in love with an ordinary(read no heritage and poor) girl studying in Radcliffe, Jeniffer Cavilleri. They plan to eventually get married which causes Oliver’s father to disinherit him. After marriage, its difficult to earn money but they pull through. However, a tragedy cuts this pretty love story short.

The good thing about ‘Love Story’ is that Eric Segal does not make the two protagonists fall in love in a cliched manner-like love at first sight or the guy doing the most chivalrous things or making disgusting promises to woo the girl. Its a quick romance with a few swear words thrown in(Its amazing how profanity can be romantic in ‘Love Story’). I have never seen a romantic novel where swear words and insulting each other contributes to building up the love between a girl and a guy!

Its written from a male perspective which I think is rare as most love stories have a woman’s point of view or have a woman as the narrator.

The book’s length is an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously. On one hand ‘Love Story’ makes for a short read. But it is this short length that doubles up as a disadvantage too because it does not allow depth in the story and in the characters. It almost becomes a breezy, unmoving read because there is not much descriptions about either Oliver’s or Jeniffer’s feelings or their relationship.

Too much use of American slang also creates a casual effect, not a deep one . It feels like it is not a profound love story but rather just an ordinary one. The short length and slang usage contribute in diluting the sadness at the end of the novel.

The last word-‘Love Story’ is no doubt a good romantic read but it is definitely not the best. Its only a one time read!

For me, Indian Fiction is irresistible and Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing draws me, attracts me to read her novels. I had read ‘Namesake’ which was an excellent book with a rare story of Indian immigrants in America. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is pretty much written on the same lines with the only exception that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its worth spending your time and money over and its a really wonderful read.

Taken from amazon.com

The book is divided into 2 parts with Part One having 5 short stories about Indian immigrants of different age, gender, generation and they are all set all over the U.S. While Part Two is a short immigrant love story of Hema and Kaushik.

In Part One, the first story ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is about a husband and his daughter coping with the wife/mother’s death and how her death allows him to travel while the daughter worries about taking care of her father. In the second story, ‘Hell-Heaven’, a married woman falls in love with a younger man who does not reciprocate this love and instead marries an American. ‘A Choice Of  Accommodation’, the third story narrates the loss of love between a married Indian-American couple and how they regain that love. The fourth one, ‘Only Goodness’ is a story of a sister trying to protect her brother from alcoholism yet shunning him away at the same time because of his addiction. It gives a curious look at brother-sister relationship. The last story,’Nobody’s Business’  is a singular story of an Indian woman living as a roommate  with Americans who is in love with an Egyptian. Part Two has three chapters which narrate a singular love story that develops between Hema and Kaushik over the years yet ends in tragedy.

The first thing that hits the reader in the face is that these stories do not have a rosy picture. There is a fragmented despair and utter sadness and even isolation and depression that pervades each story. They do not have a single aspect of the American Dream. There is conflict in each story, a loss of identity, a strong sense of disillusionment or even anger. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ provides harsh glimpses into the immigrant’s world which is unexpected as the majority of readers would expect a happy, better life in America than in India. Materially, the families are well off in each story but never emotionally or spiritually.

Although ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is a collection of short stories, the characters really come alive in each of them. Jhumpa Lahiri’s fine writing brings out nuances, peculiar qualities, different characteristics that makes the reader easily form a good picture of the characters in their mind(just like in ‘Family Matters’ by Rohinton Mistry). Her writing is undoubtedly superb and elegant. It effortlessly captures the essence of Indian immigrant life in America (just like it did in the ‘Namesake’) Its a definite must read for all lovers of Indian fiction writing and for all those who love literature.

One warning for all who want to pick up the book to read: ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ requires a great deal of concentration and it is not our typical kind of ‘happy’ book, so for those who want to peruse only for fun and past time, please don’t bother to read ‘Unaccustomed Earth’. For others who would love to venture beyond the usual, stereotypical books, might find this book just right!

P.S. I Love You‘ by Cecilia Ahern is an international romance bestseller. It makes for an enjoyable read.

Its a sweet and cute book which has a touch of hilarity, grief, fun as well as goodness. Holly Kennedy lost her childhood sweetheart and husband, Gerry due to brain tumor. Holly misses him like hell and feels her emotions overwhelming and confusing. She does not know how to live without Gerry. However, she learns to do that through her own understanding, her family and her best friends and a list that Gerry had prepared for Holly.

Its a breezy read, very easygoing(except dome parts where Holly is thoughtful about herself, her life and Gerry) with a light writing style. ‘P.S. I Love You‘ is not very descriptive but it is mostly active and happening with many events occurring in the book. The story is well laid out. It is a tad bit cliched but fortunately it is not about a guy and a girl stereotypically falling in love. Its an emotional story of a widow coping with an immense loss. Despite such a serious issue, the book is  surprisingly not very deep, in fact it is light and relaxing. It ends on a positive note which is heartening.

All chick lit fans will love ‘P.S. I Love You‘, they will be delighted in reading the book.

Chetan Bhagat is quite a good and popular author in India. His books have been bestsellers and his latest book, ‘2 States-the story of my marriage’ followed suit. So even if I give a bad review, people will still buy and read the book and that is the power of Chetan Bhagat’s popularity. Well, thankfully, my review is a mixed one. I enjoyed ‘2 States’. It is a pleasurable read.

In a nutshell, ‘2 States’ is a love story that blooms in the IIM(Indian Institute of Management), Ahmedabad. Krish falls in love with Ananya Swaminathan who is ‘the best girl in the fresher batch.’ After a few conversations and good, humourous pick up lines, Ananya starts liking Krish. They want to get married but alas! marriage in India is not that simple. Love marriages are a big no-no. What’s more, Krish is a Punjabi and Ananya is a Tamil Brahmin. An inter regional love marriage? That’s an even bigger no-no. The two are caught between their love and their families. They are resolute to marry with their families’ blessing. So will they be able to convince their families to let them marry each other? That’s what the story is about.

‘2 States’ is a witty book, quite hilarious. It is light, fun novel and written in a contemporary style which any urban Indian will connect to. ‘2 States’ excites the reader with its romantic angle but it is only mediocre. Don’t get me wrong, the book is good but just not that good. For once, it is highly predictable and I don’t mean only in terms of predicting a happy ending but also in terms of  predicting how Krish and Ananya convince their parents to accept their love. At one point in the novel, the entire plot becomes clear. Secondly, it is replete with stereotypes about South Indians and Punjabis.

So, in all, ‘2 States’ is a good, mediocre, fun read but really nothing more than that. The hilarity and the wittiness saves the book from being a disastrous romance novel!

Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ by Zora Neale Hurston is undoubtedly her best known novel. Published in 1937, it is a singular story of a black woman protagonist, Janie Crawford and the significant changes in her life. To write a women centric novel in that era is an achievement worth being entitled to.

The novel starts with Janie returning to her second husband’s town, Eatonville, after having runaway with Tea Cake, a man who was younger to her. The townspeople start gossiping and advise Pheoby  Watson, Janie’s close friend, to find out what has happened to Janie. Then Janie begins telling her story to Pheoby: Janie was married at the age of 16 to Logan Killicks by her grandmother, Nanny, so that Janie could have the security of a home . However, Janie never fell in love with him and ran away with another fellow named Joe Starks. Joe was an ambitious man who made Janie move to a new town called Eatonville where he did all he could to make the town prominent. He brought land, opened a store there and became the mayor. He ordered Janie to take care of the store but Janie was quite unhappy with that job. After Joe’s death, Janie fell head over heels in love with Tea Cake who was younger to her. They both loved each another immensely and moved to the Everglades in Florida. After Tea Cake’s death, Janie returned to Eatonville.

The story goes in good flow. The most positive aspect of the book is Janie’s strong willed characterization. She is not portrayed as a damsel in distress but rather as an intelligent, well minded personality. It is a feminist book that highlights a woman’s thoughts, ideas and feelings as well as emotions and problems. Another plus point of  ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ is the usage of a dialect. Zora Hurston has not used the language which you and I use but the dialect in which the southern blacks spoke. This lends to authenticity to the story(However some readers who are not able to read the dialect may find the story irritating and incomprehensible).

Nonetheless, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is an excellent book, and provides insightful perspective.

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