Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Greame Macrae Burnet - His Bloody Project

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In 1869 a 17 year old boy called Roderick Macrae killed three people and surrendered tamely.  He was upfront about owning to the murder. Something about the stoic, taciturn boy appeals to the lawyer chosen to defend him, Andrew Sinclair.

Sinclair asks Roddy (Roderick) to write out in detail the events leading up to the murder of Lachlan McKenzie and his kin.  In addition, he sets about getting Roddy examined by a criminal psychiatrist (though he is not called thus in those times) about the possibility of Roddy being insane at the time of the murder.  This is the only thing that will acquit him.

Through Roddy's memoirs we learn how the events came about. Roddy feels the bad things started happening when his mother died, or when the two Iains died, both his uncles.  He was left alone at home with his older sister Jetta and younger twins who were very little. And his father, of course, John Macrae.

They were a family of Crofters in the remote place called Culduie near Applecross Village in Scotland.  They were very poor, renting a small farm to croft to get along.  Things got worse for them when a neighbour called Lachlan McKenzie became the Constable in their little village.  He was not well disposed towards the Macraes and harassed them at every given opportunity.  

Roddy's memoirs consist a part of the book and serves to give us a look at all the events that led to the murders.  After that comes cherry on top of the cake for the readers. We get a magnificent look at how the case was conducted in the court of Lord Justice-Clerk, Jury, Prosecutor Gifford and Defending lawyer Sinclair.  Witnesses are examined, evidence is produced, the lawyers argue their versions, the people in the gallery are entertained and the reporter Philby of Times sends out lovely dispatches.

We are treated to how the Law maintains its solemnity despite the circus around it.  The author who speaks in a very different, rather droning voice when Roddy's memoirs are being recounted, becomes different, more energetic, descriptive, when giving us the court scenes.

At no point does the reader feel manipulated into liking the cold-blooded murderer.  We are merely shown the reason why he picked up arms. The extreme poverty, the pathetic life of the Crofters in 19th Century Scotland is shown vividly to us.  Historical dramas usually talk about nobility - the well heeled aristocracy who saunter about the countryside not heeding the poor men to whom they owe their wealth.  Here we get to see the men who tipped their hats at the aristocrats in the usual historical novels, and their beggarly lives.

It is a fabulous novel which deserves to be read.  It has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016.  It may or not win. That is immaterial.  It is a wonderful Crime/Courtroom drama which lovers of the genre should not miss.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Helen Fielding - Mad about the Boy

@vintage publications
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The trouble with sequels are that they are sequels.  They never have the sheen of the original. They cannot, the original came first and wowed us with the new concept, the mad, wonderful idea.

Bridget Jones, 30, single, overweight, has a tendency to over indulge in cigarettes and liquor.  Being plump, she has a low self esteem in this world where all women have to be well groomed and thin.

She is not the take charge, alpha female.  But she has oodles of charm.  It is something Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver are able to see.

So did millions of readers.  Helen Fielding's first Bridget Jones (1996) book became a bestseller and was made into an equally popular movie.  A sequel (1999) followed fast on its heels; 'Bridget Jones: The edge of Reason.'  It wasn't as brilliant as the first book, but it rode on the popularity wave of the first book and was likewise made into a film.

When 'Mad about The Boy' came out in 2013, I waited for the reviews.  They were quite unkind and I gave up on the idea of reading the book.  A few days ago I read this article on the new Bridget Jones movie. It send me racing to amazon to buy  'Mad about The Boy', which I read with expectations duly lowered.

Of course, the latest Bridget Jones cannot beat the original for the very reason I mentioned in the first paragraph.  BJ is still scatterbrained. She can barely take care of her two children. Mark Darcy is out of the picture, dead. Like a good man that he was, like any man that Miss Austen dreamed up, he was a good provider and BJ does not lack money or resources.  She lacks love.

Her good friends, Jude, Tom and Talitha (Shazzer has moved to Los Angeles) try to get her out there. New Bridget Jones is not using intra office messaging now, she is tweeting. She picks up a yummy boyfriend over Twitter.  Roxster is young and toned and oodles of fun.  Just what a newly minted BJ needs. She needs to lose her 'Born-again Virginity', stop obsessing over Mark Darcy and get on with her life.

BJ's sojourn into the world of social media circa the second decade of the new century is hilarious. There are sad moments when she misses Darcy, but being Bridget, she lapses back into being funny soon, so we do not feel too depressed.

The ending seemed a little upper class and tame to me.  Surely she could have done something crazy.

The book was very rollicking at the beginning,  It got a bit tame later, but was still a v.g. yarn.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Jeanette Winterson - The Gap of Time

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@Hogarth Press

The Hogarth Press got in touch with eight acclaimed writers to put a modern spin on Shakespeare Plays of their choosing.

Jeanette Winterson chose to write a cover for A Winter's Tale a play by Shakespeare that resonates with her particularly as it is about a foundling - Perdita - just as she was. She has long studied the play and unraveled it like only a true lover of literature can.

We get a brief description of the original play by Shakespeare and then starts Winterson's version. Leo is a magnate married to MiMi, a jazz singer. He is at the moment in throes of jealousy, just as MiMi is heavily pregnant. He is sure that his best friend and sometime lover, Xeno, is the father of the unborn child.

His jealousy sets things in motion, and a baby winds up up in New York, in a baby hatch outside a hospital with a briefcase full of money and diamonds. The baby and the money are appropriated by Shep who brings up the girl, Perdita, like his own alongside his grown son, Clo. She grows up loved and cossetted like a darling child while Leo, having lost his wife and older child, is a shell of his former self.

Leo's best friend and one time lover, Xeno is also in New York. Xeno's son has grown up now and just like Shakespeare decreed, he gets to know Perdita.

Winterson analyses Shakespeare and gauges his depth brilliantly. She transfers the same brilliance to her story and gives us a tale as delightful and merry and full of happy coincidences as the Bard's.

She looks at the two things that set apart the play. One: that it highlights the gap of time. The play halts just when the annihilation of happiness of King Leontes at his own hands is complete. There is a jump in time and we see Perdita grown up at sixteen. Two: the theme of forgiveness. At the essence of the play, Perdita and the good people in the play, Paulina, Shepherd and Clown (the people who adopt Perdita), forgive the wrongdoers.

She brings us a near perfect modernization of Shakespeare. As a rare treat, we get a treatise on the play and are given a very good analysis of it. It is a MUST read for lovers of Shakespeare.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Elizabeth McKenzie - The Portable Veblen

@Publisher Fourth Estate
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Veblen Amundsen-Hovda is a curious girl.  She lives in a run-down bungalow in Palo Alto that she restored herself.  She chooses to work as a temp in a hospital.  In her free time, she translates tracts of Thorstein Veblen's work into English from Norwegian. She has a dysfunctional family.  Her mother is a hypochondriac and her father is in mental hospital.  She lives her life without any complications, is happier among squirrels and nature.

Her boyfriend Paul springs a proposal on her one day.  She is not very sure and it seems very sudden yet she finds herself saying yes and accepting a large diamond ring which she does not like.  Paul is in medical research at the same hospital where Veblen temps. They met each other when Veblen was sent to Paul to deliver a message. They liked each other instantly and started dating.

Usually couples know everything about each other by the time they decide to get married.  The situation is in reverse here.  Paul and Veblen have a lot to learn about each other.  They are certainly not a perfect fit.  Will their love be able to withstand their contradicting natures?

On the surface, the book is about Paul and Veblen.  It is also about Thorstein Veblen, an economist who propounded the theory of "Conspicuous Consumption".  It is about letting nature breathe amongst reckless urbanization. It is also about devious pharmaceutical companies using underdeveloped research to mint money. It is about hippies and hypochondriacs and the mentally unstable learning to live together.  It seems that the dysfunctional are the truly functional people in our society.

In the end, we learn, nothing is as it seems.  Veblen can be pretty sorted out despite appearing unstable.  Paul, despite appearing so straight and so conventional, hides flaws too.  He has to learn to accept his hippie parents and his mentally unstable brother before he can even think of making his relationship work with Veblen.  The question is, can Paul even learn that he has flaws?

It is a wonderful mish-mash of a book that appears to be a very simple love story between Paul and Veblen, but is much more.

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