I had wanted to see The Big Sick since I heard the name and now I want to see it again for the razor sharp dialogue and the insights it provides. And, of course the humour. Love isn't easy. That's why they call it love I thought. Maybe staying untethered isn't all that bad. But at the same time it has given me unrealistic expectations and hope that other than my parents and friends someone significant will stand by me. Spoilers ahead. Would you stand by a very sick if not dying (but the threat is imminent) girl when you have just dated her for a couple of months, and broken up with her because you could see no future with her? Then, while waiting for her to wake up from a coma you realize you are in love, and willing to go that extra mile for her. I know! Truth is always stranger than fiction.Can this happen for real? Isn't cinema the fantasy that we escape to? The ideal. And then I found out that this was the story of the writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon around the time they started dating. I was done waiting for Augustus and now here comes this guy. How will real people match up to their standards? I realized that if I have to watch movies and read books I have to believe in things working out, realistic fairy tales in other words, and not be sister grim(m. Emily doesn't magically go back to Kumail because she heard from her parents he was there for her during her illness. She takes her time to figure things out. He was there but she wasn't there there to witness it. In a relationship two people have to be on the same page for it to work out. The intense scenes were done well by Zoe Kazan whereas Kumail Nanjiani looked like he was a throwing a fit or having a nervous breakdown but I have to say signing up with an acting coach was a good idea.Her parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are superlative as Emily's parents. The jokes about 9/11, ISIS and religion were really out there and it was brave of them to put it in the movie.Family, rejection, heartbreak,the question of race - all so wonderfully handled with humour. I realized as a writer you cannot be embarrassed about using things in your life as fodder in the most obvious way as long as you don't really break someone's heart. I know asking for permission or waiting for it to be granted isn't realistic but you could at least avoid the heartbreak. This was my first white movie which had a Pakistani protagonist (Next will be The Reluctant Fundamentalist which has been on my watchlist since I read the book). The family values are very similar and their expecting you to do certain things or you will be kicked out of the family is quite relatable. India and Pakistan have so many similarities because the germline is the same. Anupam Kher played the father without making it desi. You will know what I mean when you see the film. Ray Romano seemed familiar too but I couldn't put my finger on it and then I found out he's the voice of Manny the mammoth in Ice Age, and later on when I saw Parenthood, he plays a rare character on TV who's a loner and very comfortable in his own skin. Go watch it for the cast if not the subject matter.
Normal People is one of the most uncomfortable books I have read in a while. I simultaneously wanted to stop reading yet wanted to know what would happen next. Sally Rooney’s book is an emotional roller coaster and anxiety inducing. Warning – this is not a romance romance. Trigger warning for abuse, anxiety and depression. Had I known what an intense and disquieting read it would be I wouldn’t have read it now. Who am I kidding! Once I read the excerpt after hearing about the BBC series there was no looking back. I read a few pages of Conversations with Friends (Rooney’s first book) and it’s no beach read either. The last book that caused me to squirm, curl up into a ball and cry was Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. I didn’t cry while reading Normal People but the sense of unease was palpable.
The spotlight is on Connell and Marianne, and the people they are involved with during different times. You could say they are the leads and the rest are supporting characters which come, and go out of focus as per the requirement. We follow them from high school to four years of college but it seems much longer because of the minute way the book observes them.
They without knowing it save each other from their most destructive selves. A lot of tears (most of it hidden from each other), and of words unsaid due to which misunderstandings abound, but in the end they always find a way to be in each other’s lives. I didn’t look at them as a will they won’t they couple because even when they were apart something kept them connected, and that for me is the beauty of the book, and human relationships.
Their wanting everything to be easy but not being entirely comfortable with the arrangement but acting like they are, is the facade that protects them, and devastates them in equal measure. In short, acting insouciant but caring deeply. It takes too much out of them to appear casual when they would just be happy being who they are.
Someone appears calm or put together doesn’t mean they are. Someone appears independent doesn’t mean they are. What we portray to the world is an image that we want the world to see, the idea we want to present of ourselves, and that acts as a carapace to protect our real fragile selves.
I thought I would nod off to sleep as is my wont with audiobooks but the abrupt ending had me sitting upright. It’s a short book but it will linger on your mind.
Possible spoilers ahead.
I loved Tracy Chevalier’s earlier work Girl with a Pearl Earring and looked forward to reading more historical fiction by her. So when I found Remarkable Creatures in a book fair I lunged at it surreptitiously (my heart went whoa but my brain said act nonchalant). The book is reminiscent of Austen, with long sentences and pauses; set in that era but it had none of her wit (not complaining, just stating facts). Her book Persuasion is set in Lyme and another book set there is on my to-read-soonest-list, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But I’m digressing. For the highly unique subject of fossils and how their discovery changed science as they knew it, full marks to the book. And what made the book interesting for me is its genesis in truth (Okay simply put it is inspired from real life).
The beginning was slow but your patience will be rewarded. The two part narrative added to the experience of connecting with the narrator, Mary. Her crude accented English was done with the purpose of keeping it real (yes I’m using millenial lingo) but it was a tad annoying.
One of the greatest fallacies (propagated by the Church) that Earth was just 6000 years old, was challenged and refuted when extinct animals were found. Creatures which had earlier died out. Which no longer existed. They questioned God’s plan for he turned out not to be infallible, if not mortal, which was the beginning of the end for Creationism (I so wish!) and paved for the road for Darwinism.
The book at its core is about the friendship between two women from different walks (read class) of life – Elizabeth and Mary; their upheavals when the fortune of one changes rising above her station while life of the other remains the same, and how their friendship is tested. More than friends they were each others’ companions (as they were called then). They understood each other best, and made sense of each others lives in a way no one else could. Neither of them married. Intelligent readers will get what the book was hinting at.
The status of women in the 19th century, and their role in science overshadowed by men; their opinions ideas and discoveries not even treated as having value forget being given importance, and the tussle between religion and science are some of the themes discussed in Remarkable Creatures. The story is slow and set in a time before *revolution* was afoot, setting the stage for Darwin’s dangerous ideas.
Remarkable Creatures made me want to pick up Ship Fever again. It reminds me of the kind of historical fiction Andrea Barrett writes. And I can offer no higher praise than that.
First off how good is the minimalist cover of Olive Kitteridge? I really thought I got lucky with this edition not just because I love lighthouses.
I have been delaying talking about Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge because I read it within a month of my grandfather’s death. Saying we were very close would be an understatement. At first the book hurt terribly. I thought I knew heartbreak and then life decides to say ha let me show you how you wrong you are! Initially, you want to escape the pain not experience it more deeply. But then the latter is more cathartic in the long run, and you start to heal when you realize this is the way of the world. We are all connected by loss, love and longing.
I was astounded by Elizabeth Strout’s writing. There’s a kind of gentleness about the everyday life she writes about. It is never banal. I never thought everyday life could be written about so poignantly and have such an immediacy to it. Ordinary people, everyday entanglements and normal lives in the hands of a gifted writer makes for a compelling narrative.
Henry Kitteridge, the husband of Olive Kitteridge, reminded me of my grandfather – kind and affable, never wanting to make a fuss and trying his best to be in harmony with what is.
Possible spoilers ahead.
Olive Kitteridge is the portrait of a long marriage and of an only child’s failed relationship with his parents. It is learning that marriage cannot alleviate your loneliness completely even though you are bound together for life. It is about the deterioration and fatigue that sets in old age. It is about finding companionship when you least expect it. It is about tender unexpected love that has no name but which gushes forth without caring if it’s appropriate. It is a deep yearning to be connected yet unable to bridge the gap.
It is about the truth and being straightforward being the kinder way in some cases. It is about the meek and submissive becoming vile when it is they who wield the power.
It is about small things, things of no apparent consequence and almost invisible to others, having the capacity to cause such tremendous heartbreak that it takes you by surprise.
It is about compassion lurking under battle hardened hearts and letting go of judgement, living with everything as is. It is being true to yourself above all because in the end when Death is coming for you, that’s all that matters.
Olive Kitteridge showed me all that and more. I could identify with many things. Things I didn’t know I felt, things I suppressed because they weren’t important in the scheme of day to day living. And there were things I could foresee myself identifying with in the future. When a book does that you know it’s a keeper.
Time flies. Staying at home for extended periods of time when I was unwell I could feel the passage of seasons, days going by excruciatingly slow, each day with its own set of struggles and now I cannot believe such a large chunk of time has passed. The descent of time?
Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett is a collection of short stories I wanted to reread as soon as I finished the book, and it has taken me nearly two years to do it. I bought The Voyage of Narwhal immediately after finishing it, and recently The Air We Breathe has come into my possession but I still haven’t read them. What am I scared of – her not meeting my exceeded expectations or idiotically trying to collect all her other books (very hard to find in India) while not reading the ones I do have. Life is too short to wait for a complete collection. You read along and hope for the best.
In The English Pupil, Carolus Linnaeus is nostalgic for the past and remembers his apostles (read pupils), who went about the world carrying forward his legacy, sending him specimens and discovering new species. All of his apostles are dead now, and he’s inching closer towards his own.
Linnaeus and his wife remind me of an old couple, who are in the autumn of their lives and are not at peace with it or with each other. (What is the point of companionship then?) His wife doesn’t care about his work or his legacy. His work fulfilled him but didn’t make him rich. The family’s demands weren’t being met and to her that was what mattered the most. She was the pragmatic sort. A dreamer has to be paired with a realist. It is a question of survival, you see. Continue reading “Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil”