Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Richard Llewellyn - How Green Was My Valley

Some books, I am sure, seek you out.

I had gone to this second hand bookshop on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I was browsing through the books. Actually I was hoping to get some old romances which abound in these shops. Some Georgette Hayer, some Nora Roberts, a bestseller or two, pulp fiction. I did pick up Jackie Collins' Hollywood Husbands, ok, mission accomplished partially. Some more digging and I come across a collected works of Sherlock Holmes, great. And then this book by Richard Llewellyn falls into my hands.

Years ago, sometime in the 80s, Doordarshan (god bless it) used to show award winning (or acclaimed) films on late nights fridays. On one such evening, I was about to snooze off when I saw the start credits rolling for the movie How Green Was My Valley. A few scenes later sleep was far away from my eyes. I watched the movie mesmerised. I had absolutely no idea (as there was no google then) that this was a movie adaptation of an acclaimed book.

As was the movie so was the book. One chapter into it, and I was hooked. Llewellyn recreates life in a mining town in Wales with simplicity and candor. We get to know about a respectable family of Morgans. The father, Gwilym Morgan, the mother Beth and several brothers and sisters of the narrator Huw Morgan. The father is a true patriarch who holds his family together and plays an important role in the community. The mother is, likewise a matriarch who is able to manage her home and hearth well and keep a hospitable table.

The life in this family and the little community is ideal as long as all the members are able to stick to their roles. In such a perfect state, the little village can rival Eden. The local pastor Gruffydd is an able mentor to his folk. Even the owner of the mines, Mr Evans is not too inclined to greed and pays his men good wages. In such a scenario, the valley is beautiful and green despite the mining. The accidents in the mines are fewer, the people less ambitious, more god fearing and happy.

Soon, fissures start appearing in this Eden. Fear of exploitation by the owners bring in the Union which in turn makes the owners more wary. The new owners are greedy and want to dig more without a care for the environment, making the slag heaps rise higher. There are more accidents and women and children are suddenly made vulnerable by the rising deaths. People start leaving the village in search of a better future. The close knit little community crumbles.

This is backdrop in which little Huw grows up, and loves to distraction. He does not want to change this way of life and wants the Eden of his childhood intact.

We can feel the love with which the pretty portrait of a conventional life in a little Wales village is drawn. Like Huw, we want it to remain as it is, quaint and lovely. We want to see his father and brothers marching in home from the colliery covered in soot and rubbing it all off with a bath of hot water. Sitting down to a hearty meal with the pastor and later singing Welsh songs in their hearty voices. We want to see Bronwen, his beloved sister-in-law, happy in her domestic life with Ivor. His sister Angharad peeping out of the window to take a look at Mr. Gruffydd, hoping he would return her passion. Little Huw who finds love of his own when he takes Ceinwen over the hills.

It is a novel of epic proportions. I have found that the Huw Morgan saga continues in 3 more books by the same author. I hope I find these books too somewhere.

The movie - Superlative.
The book - of course more detailed and super-superlative.

Warning - I am devouring books these days.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A S Byatt - Possession and Audrey Niffnegger - The Time Traveller's Wife

It has been my fortune to read two wonderful novels in the recent times. Novels that have excited and challenged me. Both the novels play with Time. One is a scholarly research into the past of a fictional poet couple, another about a fictional creature who is at the mercy of Time. Past and present are required to be blended seamlessly in both these novels.

Possession by AS Byatt was gifted to me by a blogger friend who I had the privilege of meeting. One chapter into it and I was hooked. It was about a research scholar Roland Mitchell who comes upon a letter hitherto undiscovered from a Victorian Poet (fictional) Randolph Henry Ash to some unknown woman. I have done a year of MA English Literature and am quite familiar with the tracts of texts that delve into the personal life of writers, trying to find clues to their genius. It seems voyeuristic and thrilling at the same time. I have read scholars who tried to decode who the 'dark lady' was that Shakespeare mentions in his sonnets. I can imagine how such a letter would throw scholars like these into a tizzy. So it is. Roland keeps the letter a secret while he tries to unravel the mystery behind it. RH Ash had an unblemished personal life and this hint of extra marital romance is sure to create waves in the literary world. As Roland has a hunch that the lady in question is Christabel LaMotte, he has to take Dr Maud Bailey into confidence as she is the one who knows all there is to know about the Victorian poetess who was thought to be a lesbian.

Together Maud and Roland try to piece the story of the Victorian lovers together, like stalkers from another age they try to follow the steps of the past lovers. They cannot keep their stealth for long as established scholars can sniff out that this couple is up to something. More people get sucked into the story till it becomes a delightful, almost comic, free for all.

The book operates on many levels, it is a work of astounding scholarship, as AS Byatt creates two poets and also a body of their work. It is also a gentle sweet stabbing satire on scholars who get too voyeuristic and too meddling and too digging at times in trying to discover all about their favorite authors. It is also a story of a love of great depth unearthed gradually and lovingly recreated. There is a romantic tension between the two scholars Maud and Roland as well, and they find themselves shedding their inhibitions and bonding as they journey along the path of the lovers past. It is a mystery too, as secrets spill out of Victorian closets. It even has a twist in the end.

A magnificent book to be savored again and again.

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffnegger was recommended to me by
Couchpapaya many times over. When I saw the trailer of the movie that was based on the book, I knew it was time to read it. I received the book from flipkart on thursday the 12th of August, 2009 I read one chapter and was immediately hooked. I devoured the book by late last night, 14th August, 2009. The title of this blog is a quote from the book.

A BIG RECKLESS NOVEL.. UTTERLY CONVINCING says a blurb in the back by Daily Telegraph.

So True.

How can I describe this book? It is so bold and original and so sure footed. Henry DeTamble is a time traveller. His body gets pulled into different time zones by its own accord, and the experience is not pleasent. He arrives naked in a spot that is not always of his choosing, he has to forage for money and clothes and survive till the time he is pulled back. He has to maintain a strict regimen about his time travels and be very moral. He will not use (except for a few notable exceptions) his time travel for profit, nor does he reveal the future too often to the 'straight' travellers. His concern is how to lead a normal life despite his digressions. Clare is sucked into his world when she is six years old and Henry is 36, he knows things about her that she doesnt and he knows he has to be very patient with her. It is like a love story that is constantly travelling back and forth into time. He knows their love will endure and she has to believe it, have faith in him.

The book is carefully dated and timed to make the reader realise at what point in time they are. It is easy to feel disoriented in a book like this, but Niffnegger is sure footed and you travel with her, eyes open, taking in each marvel. Henry has to keep fit, running miles everyday to be able to survive when he arrives in a different time zone, buck naked and vulnerable. He has to learn how to pick locks and steal, passing time sometimes in jail. Similarly Clare has to keep faith, learn to fend for herself when she finds Henry missing. She has to get on with her life and keep her body and soul together.

As I read this book, I was reminded of Possession that I read earlier, and realising that these two books really challenged me. My cup of happiness was filled to the brim when I saw a quote from AS Byatt in the middle of the Niffnegger book. It proabably wont make any sense out of context, but here is a part of the quote anyway.

This is always where I have been coming to. Since my time began. And when I go away from here, this will be the mid-point, to which everything else ran, before, and from which everything will run. But now, my love, we are here, we are now, and those times are running elsewhere.

Incidently, both the books have been made into movies. Possession stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as the scholars and Jeremy Northram and Jennifer Ehle as the Victorian poets. The Time Traveller's Wife will star Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. I have not seen either of these. TTW is yet to release and Possession can perhaps be found on DVD if I look for it. If I do watch the movies, I will surely write about them as well. But I do wonder how stories with such 'scapes can be made into films.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Jackie Collins - Hollywood Husbands

I grabbed this book from the second hand book store. Its been a long time since I indulged in a bit of lit-trash. I have read a couple of her books earlier, Lucky and Hollywood Wives.

Jackie has this trademark style. She introduces several strands of stories at the outset, linking the characters in some way. For instance, in this book, there are three friends who struggled together once upon a time in Hollywood. Jack Python is rich and successful as TV talk show host. He is handsome and scores easily with women. He is dating Clarissa, a noted film actress and is thinking of settling down with her. Howard Solomon is a studio CEO and starlets love to dance at his whims. He is married to Poppy but wishes to play the field. Mannon Cable is a filmstar married to beautiful girl, but still years for his ex-wife Whitney Valentine. Jack Python has an older sister called Silver who has just bounced back from a total washout stage to being the top star on a TV show. She is single and despite being in the late forties, can pick and choose. She has a daughter called Heaven and they do not get along. Heaven is living with her grandfather. Her uncle Jack looks after her well. On the other hand, a famous model Jade has just moved to LA from New York. Wes Money is a bartender and drug runner, he is a survivor and a real man. All these fates are intertwined.

Oh.. there is a side plot of a psychotic killer on the loose. The novel gives us tantalising glimpses of her background and the people she has done away with, making them look like accidents. The reader is kept guessing about her identity. All we know is someone is gonna pay....

In typical Jackie style, we get a quick character sketch of all couples in the first couple of chapters, we get to know their agli pichli. What the chars have been doing and where they are headed. Then the story starts, things happen to this of that person, the story moves ahead. Some chars get together and make violent love. Some chars fall into a flashback, some cheat, some break up, some meet and fall in love and all that jazz.

Jackie Collins tries to be brash and brave and shocking. Errr maybe at one time she was. Now she aint. Despite her characters trying hard to be bad, they wind up being good. Even a drug sniffling, ass-licking, wife cheating b**tard like Howard whimpers tamely by the time the book is to end. Silver falls in love ... jeez ! Wes Money turns straight (in his dealings - his orientation is straight right from the start). All the husbands turn seedha sada at the end.

What Jackie is, is a good read. Her books are racy, fluffy, frothy. Good for airports. I hardly ever fly, but there are times when I feel I am waiting at an airport. When I am home, I am just whiling time till I am back to the kitchen for dinner, or off to sleep, or doing some other chore. Jackie is a perfect read for the waiting period.

She likes to draw a strong character that reminds you of someone in the entertainment business. So Silver is drop dead glamourous and talented and a diva like - say - Marilyn Monroe. Clarissa is a serious actor in the mold of Susan Sarandon or Meryl Streep. Mannon Cable is like Clark Gable (hey it rhymes even ! ). So while aam readers like us dont know these people intimately, we know through gossip rags the kind of things they do. So whatever Jackie tells us about them seems believeable.

Racy Fun and Glamourous. Thats what the book is !