Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Such a Long Journey

Such a Long JourneySuch a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey is one of those remarkable confluences of astonishingly beautiful writing, tightly crafted plot, and fully-developed characterization. The work is neither pretentious nor formulaic. And although there is no major crisis that takes place, no earth-shattering destruction of place or person, there is a sustained tension throughout the novel that keeps you reading, that draws you into the life of the main protagonist, Gustad Noble.

The novel is set during the rule of Indira Gandhi, and is a damning indictment of both her government and American foreign policy of the time. The journey is both a physical and metaphorical one, of Gustad’s bedside visitation of a friend he thought had betrayed him, and of Gustad’s eventual realization that there are few absolutes in life beyond that of death, that for every face there are a myriad of facets.

There are several subtle but poignant metaphors woven throughout this narrative, the most memorable being the character of Tehmul, who is a physically and mentally disabled man with the character of a boy, and it is this pull of the innocent versus the carnal that mirrors much of the political and social turmoil of the novel.

Although short-listed for the 1991 Booker Prize, Such a Long Journey was pulled from the University of Mumbai’s English curriculum because of protests from the family of Hindu nationalist, Bal Thackeray – yet one more example in the world of unenlightened people nurturing fear-mongering.

I’d urge you to read Such a Long Journey. It is a story that will nestle in your psyche and remain.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: The Sentimentalists

The SentimentalistsThe Sentimentalists by Johanna Shively Skibsrud
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In 2010 Johanna Skibsrud won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the youngest author to date to take the coveted literary award, for her debut novel, The Sentimentalists.

My own experience of The Sentimentalists was not entirely positive. There are a few moments of poetic writing and beautiful insight; but overall character development often ran to obscurity and confusion, so that it was difficult to connect relationships and individuals. Geographic locations were often muddled, as were nationalities and the justification of characters’ actions.

And while this is a tender tribute to Skibsrud’s own father’s experience during the Vietnam War, there are moments when his wartime memories are revealed, only to devolve into a philosophical daydreaming that didn’t rise much above the navel. To be honest, I closed the book and remained unsure what, exactly, had been the point of the novel. But maybe that was the point. If so, it’s the most subtle and obscure of rationales I’ve come across in some time. And this from the reader who adored Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

In the end, I remain quite confused as to why this novel merited the Giller.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: Black Ships by Jo Graham

Black Ships (Numinous World, #1)Black Ships by Jo Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Based on Homer's epic Aeneid, Jo Graham's Black Ships certainly has dynamic and profound material with which to work. Unfortunately, Graham's delivery falls short of anything but a mildly entertaining chick-lit read.

Having said that, there are echoes of Marion Zimmer Bradley's style here, a retelling of a male-oriented legend from a female, even feminist point of view, in this case the oracle known as Pythia replacing the Arthurian Morgaine. And yet Graham's characters failed to rise off the page, to engage, to vividly occupy the imagination. In fact, I very much felt throughout the story that Graham simply populated her story with dolls and predictably moved them about. It was as though Graham found herself bound by the very legend she attempted to illuminate.

Which is disappointing. This is stuff to fire the imagination. And because of the writing style, and the lack of vivid character development, it's a sure bet I'll give the rest of this series a pass.

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