All Shall be well, Deborah Crombie
This is the second Crombie mystery I’ve read. It’s better in terms of the actual mystery than the first, in the sense that I did not quickly guess whodunnit. There was an Indian connection in the plot – the murdered woman had grown up in India – and I expected the usual British-centric cliches but thankfully, it avoided that pitfall.
However, it coalesced my irritation at the detective Duncan Kincaid, who keeps calling on his junior Gemma to do unofficial (read: without pay) work for him. Being attracted to her does not excuse this. I also do not find it credible that Gemma would bring her toddler son along to do detective work. Not that I object to it, but I find myself irritated at these portrayals of raising children, as if it’s possible to just take them along at that age and they’ll cooperate. I have come across such children but they are rare, and portraying them as cooperative without comment propagates the fantasy that having children is something that can just be tacked onto your life. To be fair, the book does talk about Gemma’s anxieties about child support and child care, but that does not stop Kincaid from leaning on her to help him. Bah.
The Persian boy, Mary Renault
This is the second book in the Alexander trilogy. Surprisingly, I loved this one. I did not expect to be enthralled by a novel told from the perspective of a eunuch (though I have actually read and enjoyed Wilbur Smith’s Egypt trilogy with a eunuch protagonist), but Bagoas is actually a historical figure. Moreover, I realised that, like Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, the reason the secondary character (in that case Patroclus) had to narrate the story was because he could then function as a third-person narrator. How could Alexander/Hercules praise himself without appearing conceited, for example?
But actually, I found even the non-Alexander parts, the parts about Bagoas’s boyhood, interesting, and I came to care for his fate as much as Alexander.
The book gave an impressive account of everything that Alexander achieved, the syncretic culture he cultivated and what drove him, his motivation for war.
I haven’t read the synopsis yet, but I wonder what the next book could be about considering that the hero is no more.
Daughters of the sun, Ira Mukhoty
I first encountered the women of the Mughal court in Indu Sundaresan’s amazing fiction series, and I remember being stunned to realise that the historical details were pretty accurate. That is, that these extremely cultivated, accomplished and ambitious women existed in the Mughal court and that they had made such important contributions to history. Why had we never heard of them?
I devoured Mukhoty’s historical account as if it were fiction, and omg I’m totally a Nur Jahan fangirl. Also, if I had another daughter I’d name her Jahanara.
Conversation with Friends, Sally Rooney
This is one of those books I wanted to read badly enough – just based on reviews – that I ordered it from the library and read it in hard copy.
Initially, while I liked it, I didn’t see what the hoopla was about. But then I realised, I was copying down passages of it, something I used to do a lot, and don’t do so much now.
In some ways, I feel like I am Frances but without the tendency to self-harm and the sense of lacking a personality
On the other hand, I was struck and a bit impatient by how young they were. For a super intelligent and hyper-aware young lady, Frances in love still plays the kind of stupid games one only does in possibly one’s teens and twenties. Like instead of clearing the air, stewing. You want to give her a little shake.
At some point, I thought it should have been called “conversation with myself” instead of “with friends” because so much of it is in her head, but then I realise a compelling part of the novel is her friendship with Bobbi and also with Melissa and Nick. Frances and Bobbi are precocious, the kind of intelligent, arty people, the too cool of school type that usually strike me as trying, but for some reason did not annoy me, maybe because they actually had intelligent things to say and were genuinely vulnerable.
In some ways, the novel could have been set anywhere but the Irish bits come through in the oblique ways – alcoholism, Frances’ fears that she might be pregnant, her relationship with the church.
This is a novel about a friendship or rather a queer relationship between two young women, but also about marriage and the complicated nature of things. It’s probably a sign of my age and general situation that I found Nick and Melissa’s marriage as interesting as the young people’s relationship(s)
Chaos, James Gleik
This is a book about chaos theory. It is one more book I’m reading thanks to (?) an annoying columnist who makes references or paraphrases quantum/chaos theory and I have a sneaking suspicion he’s talking through his hat. So I’ll admit my descent into this particular rabbit hole is partly motivated by my need to prove this guy to be the idiot that he is (okay simply wrong), but I also feel like physics was thing I was almost as afraid of as maths, and I am at the stage at which I want to confront that fear.
So basically, what I got from this book is that “chaos” in the chaos theory sense is unpredictability. And also that there is order in chaos.
I was struck by how badly scientist crave and want to prove that order exists. Feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray traces this impulse to what she calls Plato’s “dream of symmetry”. I could see this so clearly in this book.
So, basically, a theory of chaos turned into a theory about how chaos is not really chaos in the ordinary sense. Calm down people, order has been restored.
This book also fell into the Anglo-American trap. It acknowledged that many of these discoveries had been made by Soviet scientists, but that they did not reach the English-speaking world because of the cold war. While one of the strengths of the book is that it humanises the scientists by telling us about them as people, it fails to do this for the Soviet scientists who were really the pioneers. It would have been harder to access information about the Soviet scientists or to interview them, but by not doing so, the book again glorifies Americans/Brits while side-lining those who got there first.
I’ll admit I struggled through this book and there were parts I didn’t fully understand. I read less in March because I was plodding through this one. It kindled an urge in me that I never thought was possible – the desire to do math.
I realise that being an adult, out of school, who does not have to do something, where there is no pressure to excel is the best way to learn. I want to go back to some of the harder math I did in high school and college, and relearn it, this time just for the joy of it.
Less, Andrew Sean Greer
There is so much good literary fiction around, yougaiz! The thing with (contemporary) literary fiction (okay or just literature) is that unlike the stuff that one studies for a Literature degree, it is from one’s own period, the words are easily understood, so one can just enjoy the writing without having to decipher it so the speak.
Also uplit! I recall the legendary Eunice De Souza, poet and teacher, once telling us that if we were looking for happy endings, modern literature was not going to provide it – he only exception being Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (rushed out to buy that book, only to be unable to finish it for years until I was older and then just inhaled it, thus proving that there is a time for every book).
So this is basically a Ulysses redux (but so much more accessible than James Joyce’s version, so don’t worry), a gay man’s long-winded journey (across the world) to return home. Like the Penelopiad, it gives us a different tra
I identified with Less’s social anxiety (okay, I realise that I identify with something about the main character in every book I enjoy, which is a really trite observation to make, because isn’t that the point if skillful writing, but I guess the point of this blog is to shamelessly make trite observations, so there), but not with his humility. The guy is put down at every turn – a comment on how basically obnoxious most people one meets these days are – and he just takes it graciously, without hissing and spitting back, heck even internalising the shitty descriptions of himself (that are said to his face!). I need to be more like that, without the internalising part. Or maybe it is the internalising that allows him to not fight back, in which case, no.
I want to face people’s crappy opinions (including of myself) with equanimity, but not believe them.
Something about this book reminded me off Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, but I liked it much better. I’m so happy we can once again have books with happy endings. There, if that doesn’t motivate you to read this, what will?
An American Wife
So I must be the most thick reader in the history of reading, but I didn’t realise this was loosely on Laura Bush until after the half-way mark. Admittedly, I didn’t read any review/synopses of the book. It vaguely registered on my radar because Glenn Close did not win an Oscar for a movie based on this book (just checked, and it turns out that movie was a different one, based on a different book and now I have to find that book too).
I never thought much about Laura Bush. She only registered on my consciousness when Michelle Obama was compared unfavourably to her and I was, like, what? George Bush, obviously, could not not registered seeing as he was the most idiot president one could imagine, until Donald Trump came along and bested him. Still, Trump has not started a war based on made-up evidence. Yet.
At the end of this book, I not only came to admire Alice/Laura, I wanted to emulate her. That’s how awesome it is. I never in my life would have imagined that I would see Laura Bush as a role model. I think the trick here is that I realised Alice was Laura Bush too late to dislike here. The backstory had already shoved me into her corner.
Apart from Alice herself and of course her feisty grandmother (apparently we are not supposed to use the word feisty to describe women because it’s never used to describe men, but I can’t help myself sorry), there is the portrait of her marriage. In some way, I identify (there I go again) with Alice’s marriage – an intellectual woman marries a not very intellectual man. But Alice’s approach to marriage is the opposite of mine, even though her dilemmas resonate. It is, I love this man, we have great physical chemistry, there are parts of him that annoy me no end, but I’m not going to fight this, because living without him is worse. The not fighting part is where Alice and I differ, but I do admire her ability to keep calm and carry on.
Weirdly, I have come across Curtis Sittenfeld on the chick lit racks and never picked up her novels because they didn’t seem like they would be chick lit enough. They wouldn’t. But I am basically going to read anything she writes, I reckon.