Holy Cow! by Sarah Macdonald
I’m usually not a huge fan of travel books – to me they can often feel like sitting through a stranger’s long tedious slideshow of What I Did on My Holiday. This author though spent some time actually living in the country, and India always fascinated me (and ok, I really liked the colourful book cover). I’ve been to India about nine years ago, and if I hadn’t travelled to Egypt a couple of years previously I’d probably have found it as much of a culture shock as Sarah did on her first trip. It leaves her absolutely hating India and she swears to never return again; however when her partner moves to India for work she follows him to New Delhi and tries to make a life there.
At first Sarah pretty much hates India all over again and is appalled by the poverty, noise, pollution, sexism, but after a near-death encounter with double pheumonia she decides to go on a sort of a spiritual quest and explore the many faiths present in India – Sikhism, Judaism, Hinduism, the beliefs of the Parsee among others. It made for an interesting reading, though I couldn’t help but feel that in the end all of her religion-hopping was rather superficial (though to be fair, she might have simply intended her book to be light reading rather than Religions 101). Though her partner is the reason for her moving to India, their relationship isn’t explored in great depth either and he remains a very sketchy presence. But you can see how Sarah warms up to India and learns to appreciate it, and overall the book was very entertaning.
Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson
This was one of those insanely addictive books where you skip a TV program you’d normally watch because you just have to know what happens next dammit. The premise certainly grabbed my attention – it is about a woman in her late 40s who, because of a past trauma, had lost most of her memories past the early childhood and is unable to form new ones for longer than a day. Every day, Christine wakes up as a clean slate, with no memories of the past day or the last week or the last twenty years. Her only human contact is with her husband Ben and a neuropsychologist who is interesed in her case and encourages her to keep a journal, which she finds and reads anew every day at his prompt. The journal in fact is most of the book and we follow Christine from day to day as she tries to piece her life and her past together. It’s to the writer’s credit that the journal entries avoid being too repetitive and instead feel like each one builds on what happened the previous day.
I find the themes of identity and memory absolutely fascinating, what are we after all without our memories? Because Christine is the sole point of view of the book, it always makes you question everything: are her memories what they appear? Are they real or simply projections and wishful thinking? How much can she trust anyone, or herself even?
Unfortunately, the ending was a letdown. I figured that a book like this must have a big dramatic twist somewhere, and I half-guessed it without trying too hard. The reason I only half-guessed it was because the full twist was too far-fetched and silly to even consider. It got more improbable the more I thought about it, and though the book ends on an ambiguous note the resolution still feels far too neat and happy. Shame because, until the last few pages, the book had me 100%.
On Writing by Stephen King
I thought it was a fantastic craft memoir on par with William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade. It’s split into halves: the first one is where King recounts the events from his life which shaped him and his writing, and the second section is advice to budding writers, served in an engaging, no-nonsense manner. I wouldn’t call myself even a wannabe writer; though I’ve always had a vague ambition of writing my own fantasy novel one day I just don’t have the kind of burning desire and need to write King is talking about. Still, I love reading about the craft of writing, why particular stories work or do not work, how to structure sentences and paragraphs etc. My two favourite peeves of King’s in this book were the passive tense (really how much more gormless a sentence like The meeing will be held at seven o’clock sounds as opposed to The meeting’s at seven); and the use of adverbs in dialogue attribution. I wonder what he thought of Harry Potter books because J.K. Rowling freakin’ loves her adverbs.