Argh! Just made the world’s biggest rookie mistake yesterday. Thanks Mish for pointing it out.

Can you please try visiting my new site again? Hopefully, it’ll work (better) now.

Thanks and apologies.

A New Home


I’ve finally moved to a self-hosted site – an idea I’ve been playing about with for ages. Please visit me here, and update your RSS feeds and bookmarks.

I’m going to miss the place, but it’s time to move on. See you around at the new place sometime soon!

In a world where twenty-seven year old women are called “spinsters” and they aren’t allowed to study further, despite being inclined towards academia, where they still need their mother’s permission to carry out certain activities, and where they’re bound by society’s rules and regulations, this story is about a woman desperately trying to find her place and her footing while her siblings are getting married, having babies and moving ahead.

It’s also a story about another woman, a spiritualist, who has been imprisoned due to her involvement in an affair which led to the unfortunate demise of one of her clients. She blames it on the spirits who she interacts with, but there isn’t any evidence in her favour.

Set in London in the 1870s, this book is about two women: Selina, the prisoner (and spiritualist) and Margaret, the Lady Visitor at the prison who is trying to overcome an “illness.”

Early on in the book, Margaret’s visit to Millibank Prison are more about meeting Selina (who she’s never met before), than the other prisoners. Selina, who communicates with various spirits from the prison cell as well, interacts with Margaret’s father who passed away two years previously. As they form a special spiritual bond – a result of loneliness and despondence – they start sharing the details of their past (and their present), which brings them closer together, leading Margaret to believe that Selina is her “affinity.”

One sympathises with Margaret, wonders whether Selina is really a spiritualist or not (well, I did – I don’t really have believe in spirits being able to interact with humans via various media), and dreads the prison – which essentially could be a character in itself. Dark and gloomy, with endless passages, odours, wards, and extremely strict (almost inhumane) matrons who patrol the wards and punish the prisoners for their crimes.

As I’ve come to expect with Sarah Waters’ novels, there’s a breathtaking plot twist, which just leaves the reader gripped to the book, long after they’ve turned the last page. The book is written in interleaving chapters of the present and the past: the present is Margaret’s voice, writing in her diary, and the past is Selina’s, presumably writing in her diary as well. Thus, the whole book is presented to us from the eyes of the two protagonists, and one does start seeing things from their points of view. It’s easy to relate to them, sympathise with their predicaments, and hope for a “happily ever after” that’s only ever seen in fairy tales.

While this book is no Fingersmith (I doubt Waters will be able to re-do that kind of magic), it is still immense in terms of character development and scene setting. It’s probably my second favourite book by Waters (although I still have Tipping The Velvet to go). I’ve read/heard many comments saying Waters is at her best while writing about the Victorian period, and as things stand, I’m bound to agree.

Have you read Affinity? Where do you think it stands amidst Sarah Waters’ other novels?

A Gate At The Stairs is one of “those” books – beautiful writing, intelligent conversation flowing through the book, a sensitive plot, and a book with great potential.

Tassie is a college student in the Mid-western town of Troy, who finds a job as a baby sitter for Sarah, an affluent restaurant-owner who adopts Emmie, a “biracial” child. Sarah is perpetually busy running the upmarket restaurant, and Tassie ends up spending a fair bit of time mothering Emmie.

While there are two other parallel stories (Tassie’s “first love” and Tassie’s brother contemplating his future at the military), the adoption of the biracial two year old by a white couple was the one that had me glued to the book.

When a boy uses the infamous n-word at Emmie, the babysitter reports it to Sarah, who starts a “group” for parents with non-white children. The group meets every Wednesday, and contemplates what the future holds as well as discusses the present-day situation of the African American race. In a post 9/11 world, racism in midwestern America is still rampant, and the lives of the minority is still under question. The snippets of conversation on Wednesday evenings that Moore penned down had me absolutely boggled. Call me naive, but I don’t think much about racism or how a person’s caste or skin colour can affect their place in society. In my ideal world, it shouldn’t, and maybe because I’ve not witnessed it first hand, I’m absolutely oblivious. As Martin Luther King once said, “judge not a man by the colour of his skin, but by the content of his character” – but that doesn’t really happen, does it?

Yes, I’ve read a fair bit about slavery and the troubles African Americans face, but, most of those books are from a different age, and in my little head, that time had just gone by. The unfairness of racial abuse towards biracial children literally had me perplexed!

Anyway, I digress. Back to Moore’s book.

As one might expect, the plot twist comes from a blast from the past that reminds the many characters that the past does not forget. In my opinion, this was a little excessive as well, and Moore was trying to make the plot more dynamic, more “exciting” – to an extent, she did succeed, but, it just left me feeling perplexed.

The book was an interesting read, but, the last seventy pages just ended up taking a gigantic detour and having a story which didn’t really fit in with everything else. Again, maybe it was something that does belong to the post 9/11 world? I don’t know – I think the book would have benefitted from either streamlining the story, or avoiding some of it, despite it being emotionally powerful, and relevant in this day and age.

You can’t fault the writing style though. It’s beautiful, witty, insightful, and although Tassie at times comes across as way too mature for her age, at other times I could relate to her and her college lifestyle. Even Sarah and Edward (Sarah’s husband) characters are well-developed, and while I didn’t care much for the latter, I did sympathise with Sarah.

Think this book is worth a read, and I’d love to read more of Moore’s works, to see if they’re as insightful.

Have you read anything by Moore? How do you think her short stories compare to her novel?

“Charming” – That’s the first word that came to mind when I turned over the last page of this novella. I haven’t seen the Audrey Hepburn movie, so I didn’t really know much about the plot (maybe I really do live in my own little cocoon) prior to reading the classic.

There’s Holly Golightly, who gets the star billing, as the writer recounts memories of his glamourous neighbour many years later. Holly Golightly is a young woman, drifting through life in New York in the 1940s: the bars, the martinis, parties, the social scene. A complex character, who’s a wonderful combination of being naive and stubbornly independent, she keeps her friends close yet at a distance.

As her past tries to catch up with her, and she unknowingly gets entangled with the Mafia, she contemplates what she wants from life.

I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together.  I’m not quite sure where that is just yet.  But I know what it’s like…. It’s like Tiffany’s…. Not that I give a hoot about jewelry.  Diamonds, yes.  But it’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty…

This was my first foray into the world of Capote as well, and I was blown away by the rich lyrical writing, by the richness of Holly’s character, and by some of the cleverly crafted paragraphs. It was a delightful read, and I think the story is going to stay with me for a long time, as will Holly: a character that frustrated me to no end, but I still couldn’t help but like her.

In terms of books being confusing and complex, this one ranks right up there. New characters being introduced every couple of pages, the story taking dramatic turns, changing from showing corruption while trading in the 18th-19th century to a surreal adventure story, and there’s a love story thrown in, just for good measure as well.

But no – that’s not all. In fact, that’s simplifying it much.

The book has one of the most graphic opening chapters, where a child is coming into the world, already dead. However, by some miracle, Orito (a midwife) saves the life of the child (and the mother). It’s 1799 and the place is Nagasaki. Christianity is banned, most of the women are “wives” or prostitutes, and the locals and foreigners interact with the help of “interpreters,” as the Dutch aren’t allowed to study the local dialect.

The importance of the birth and the sequence of events it triggers isn’t obvious in a first chunk of the book. Instead, we’re introduced to the Dutchmen who inhabit the artificial island of Dejima – the corrupt greedy Dutch, working for the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC, or Dutch East India Company). Most of them are corrupt, trying best to figure out how to forge the books for their own personal gains, but there’s the one employee/clerk who puts honour above all else : Jacob de Zoet.

Things get complicated when he falls in love with Orito, the midwife, and they get even further twisted when she’s abducted and sent to the Shrine of Shiranui – where she’s set to become a nun at a convent. The Shrine isn’t really a convent though, and the Goddess isn’t really a Goddess. Think The Handmaid’s Tale… with a twist.

And here, we’ve just finished part one of the book! I don’t want to give too much away, but the rest of the book is a whirlwind, with things happening at the blink of an eye: power trips and struggles, love, betrayal, tragedy, courage and a thirst for the truth.

The writing is extraordinary – something I’ve come to expect from David Mitchell’s books (despite reading only the two). The ambience he creates almost seems to transport me back to the eighteenth century Dejima/Nagasaki. Considering most of my historical association with Nagasaki stems from August 9, 1945, this was a pleasant change. Mitchell even gave a nod to the growing friction between the English and the Dutch in their quest for power in Asia, and the extent to which the respective parties would go. Fantastic, as it almost seemed like text book stuff – but so much more gripping.

I enjoyed the book, but not as much as number9dream, nor as much as Cloud Atlas. I thought this book was less “fun,” and more “serious” – the experimental style of Mitchell’s writing does still exist, but I think, the ambition of this novel lay more in the plot than the surrealism or ambiguity that I’ve come to associate with his writing. I’ve still got two unread books by David Mitchell, and I’m curious to see how this would compare with them.

Do you have a favourite book by David Mitchell? What do you think makes the book stand out?

This is the third and final book of the Millennium trilogy, and I’m almost annoyed that there will be no more novels of Lisbeth Salander or Mikael Blomkvist on my reading list again.

The final book in the trilogy opens with Lisbeth being shot several times in the head, after she attempted to kill her father, Zalachenko, who will be pressing charges. Zalachenko, a KGB defector, has been protected by a secret governmental organisation ever since he entered Sweden. Truths have been concealed, reports fabricated and a web of lies spun over the years, by various people in positions of power, and they are now threatened as to what might be unveiled thanks to the latest developments. Their masterplan is to get Salander committed to an asylum permanently. At the same time, Blomkvist, the irrepressible journalist at Millennium, is trying to figure out what’s being covered, by whom and why. It’s the classic battle between the good guys and the bad guys, with some necessary sacrifices being made by the “bad guys” – some people being used as pawns, and some being eliminated altogether; and both sides trying to outdo the other.

Most of the action in the book happens in the police/government offices, the hospital where Lisbeth is slowly recuperating, and the newspaper offices. The themes so far prominent in Larrson’s books continue: politics and corruption in Sweden, the subjugation of women, the importance of good investigative journalism, and the Big Brother world we live in, where constant surveillance and hacking can get most answers.

A couple of other stories intertwine in the finale as well, making this book a monster of 750 pages (approximately). Some of the details seem unnecessary, and I did spend the first two hundred odd pages just trying to get to grips with the myriad of characters that kept getting introduced. Once I got past that, I just lapped up the rest of the book in no time whatsoever.

This book seems like it would make a good TV series (I’m thinking Alias right about now) – at least one season of a TV series. It’s action-packed, things keep happening, and there are a number of cliffhangers. At the very outset, we know who some of the bad guys are, but as the book continues, the counter keeps incrementing. Plus, if one’s interested, it does give a view of Swedish politics and its history.

Salander and Blomknist remain the “white” characters in the “black and white” world that this book depicts. Annika, Blomkvist’s sister, plays a much bigger part, and she instantly became a favourite. With engaging characters (including the bad guys), and an incredibly well thought out story, I did enjoy this book. It’s interesting, but the charm of the book doesn’t lie in the ambience that’s created, but more in the way things turn around and the characters act.

It’s pop-fiction, but it’s gripping pop-fiction, so even if you’re turned off by seeing this trilogy on bestseller charts and ads everywhere, it’s still worth giving it a shot, I think. You might be pleasantly surprised – I was!

I bought this book back in January, simply because the blurb likened it to I Capture The Castle, and ended up “saving” it for the Persephone Reading Week (hosted by Verity and Claire). I had great expectations from this book (if you may excuse the totally unnecessary pun), not only because of the blurb comparing it to one of my favourite books from last year, but also because the writer is Charles Dickens’ great-granddaugher, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The title of this book is inspired by Tennyson’s Mariana:

She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary;
I would that I were dead!”

and it’s the story of a young girl, Mary, reflecting on her life as a child, teenager and finally, an adult. In the opening chapter itself, Mary hears the news that a British Destroyer has sunk, and the next-of-kin of those departed have been informed. There are some survivors. There’s a storm outdoors, the telephone lines are down, and there’s nothing she can do in that point in time to find out whether she’s going to be the recipient of good news, or bad; whether her dearest has survived or not.

While she restlessly awaits the morning to go into town, she reflects on her life – from the time she was eight years old until now. The idyllic visits to her grandparents’ estate in Chabury during the vacations, the stress of school, her hilarious experience at a school for drama, her fantastic year in Paris (being courted by the romantic Pierre) and of course, the “happily ever after” before now.

I don’t know what it is about the name “Mary,” but the characters are oft’ quite contrary (as in the nursery rhyme). The protagonist of the Dickens’ novel is no different. She’s spoilt, wants her own way most of the time, and her mother normally gives in.

“You’re so utterly wrapped up in yourself that you have no interests outside your own egotism. You’ve obviously been accustomed to having your own way all your life – someone to do this and that for you, to listen to your complaints and pander to your moods -“

Despite that, I found myself rooting for Mary through the book – her naivety coupled with her innocence and idealism make her quite a charming character. There were times she was annoying, and deserved to be put in place, though, and at some points she just seemed very weak-minded and self-pitying. Was it the childhood romance gone wrong? Or, the indulgent Uncle who lived with her and her mother? Or, just a part of growing up, struggling with identity and desiring independence?

The writing is humorous, and the book an easy, “fun” read. It’s not like one giant reflection on her life. Instead, it’s like numerous continuous flashbacks, with no nod to the present.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and half-wish I’d read it when I was still a teenager. While I had no trouble relating to Mary now, I think I’d’ve loved her much much more when I was sixteen.

Have you read any other Monica Dickens? Would you recommend them?

And how’s your Persephone Reading Week coming along?