books

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – Book Review

More book club reading. This one was an interesting experience – the author’s intent became obvious to me only after I finished the novel and read the acknowledgements at the back, which recast the whole thing in a very different light. If I remembered my classic Greek literature better, I’d probably have realised sooner that Home Fire is a modern-day retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. This made me understand the author’s story choices better, while also making it easier to pinpoint why, overall, the book didn’t quite work for me. There’s still a lot to like about it – the prose is simple and lucid, it explores the timely topics like terrorism and anti-Muslim attitudes with insight and intelligence, most characters are well-drawn and their wildly different life choices are easy to understand and empathise with. But in the end, it did feel less than the sum of its parts.

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Collected Short Stories Volume 1 by W. Somerset Maugham – Book Review

I’ve read and loved a few Maugham novels without realising that he also excelled at short stories. This is the first one of a four volume collection, which I’ll no doubt complete one day as I love both short stories and Maugham’s brilliant writing. As in any collection, the quality varies somewhat, but most entries are great little gems of economical, elegant storytelling.

The thirty stories contained in the volume are grouped together by geography, as they move from the islands of the Pacific Ocean to England, France, Spain and back to Borneo. They vary wildly in length – some stories take up forty pages and others stop at four – and in tone, with some stories light-hearted and dryly comical, almost resembling a witty punchy epigram, while others are almost luridly tragic.

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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – Book Review

Another one for the book club. I’ve actually read this dystopian novel some years ago, but I was happy to revisit Atwood’s nightmarish yet highly imaginative envisioning of the future where messing with nature comes to a no good, very bad end for the human race.

This is not a spoiler, since the book opens in the post-apocalyptic future where the world’s population has been wiped out, and follows what could be the last human survivor who calls himself Snowman. The only other inhabitants are a mysterious new breed of humans called Children of Crake: physically flawless and beautiful, lacking sexual drive and violent impulses, unable to create art or technology, devoid of envy, anger and existential angst. Despite their reverence for Snowman, his chances of survival look pretty grim, with the dwindling supplies and no real weapon to protect himself against the genetically engineered animals now running amok (including some nasty mutant pigs you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark narrow alley).

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The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett – Book Review

In between pumping out his countless Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett (may he rest in peace) also found time to pen this delightful little oddity. It’s more or less a novelty book, perfect to read in short bursts if, like me, you can’t eat breakfast without leafing through a book or staring at your mobile phone. You probably need to like British humour and cats to get the most out of it, but if you enjoy both or, better still, own a cat, you’ll be cackling like crazy in recognition while reading this gem.

Far too many people these days have grown used to boring, mass-produced cats, which may bounce with health and nourishing vitamins but aren’t a patch on the good old cats you used to get. The Campaign for Real Cats wants to change all that by helping people recognise Real cats when they see them. Hence this book.

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Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai – Book Review

I’ve resolved not to buy any more clothes from the second-hand stores to prevent the wardrobe explosion, but I can’t stop buying really cheap books! I very much enjoyed this charming, off-kilter first novel from the Indian author who later won the 2006 Man Booker Prize with The Inheritance of Loss, about a young morose slacker who leaves his home town to take up residence in a guava tree, and becomes an accidental guru. Hilarity and chaos ensue.

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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Book Review

Last book club read for this year before we regroup in January, Purple Hibiscus is an engaging and beautifully written coming-of-age story set in postcolonial Nigeria. Its heroine, Kambili, is a shy and timid 15-year-old girl growing up within the confines of her wealthy family, ruled by her devoutly religious, authoritarian, verbally and physically abusive father Eugene. When Kambili and her brother Jaja get a chance to spend time with their liberal aunt Ifeoma and her children, freed from Eugene’s oppressive regime, Kambili slowly begins to find her confidence and her own voice.

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The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer – Book Review

I haven’t seen much of Amy Schumer’s comedic material, but her turn in Trainwreck was memorable enough for me to read this enjoyable autobiographical collection of essays and recollections, told with frankness, humour and quite a bit of raunch and cussing. There’s always a measure of scepticism when one reads a memoir by a celebrity – particularly a performer – in how much of it is a carefully edited performance and how much is genuine. As far as my impressions went, Schumer at least doesn’t come off as a person who pretends to be someone they’re not.

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