Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rashmi bookmarks “Driving Blind”

I have always been in awe of the genius of Ray Bradbury… with this collection of short stories, I marvel, for the umpteenth time, how much this writer takes me through the entire gamut of emotions from “Yes! I know that feeling!” to “Wow! I have never known such emotions”! (In no particular order) here are my favourites:

* Someone In The Rain - My website features a thought by Kahlil Gibran, “The biggest thing in today’s sorrow is the memory of yesterday’s joy.” This story reminds me of that thought. It talks of a very special memory that was created in childhood, and was cherished for an entire life. It undergoes a very specific attempt to recreate that memory exactly. And it realizes with a breaking heart that what once was, never can be again.

* Mr. Pale - The idea presented here was fantastic enough to be simultaneously incredible and plausible! Is it possible that there has existed a creature since the beginning of time that lives off the lives of people? Could it be that we die so that it can live? What if its death would mean immortality for us? Are we sure we can risk finding out? And if we do find out, are we sure we can bear immortality, with its “immense burden of memory”?

* Nothing Changes - Starting from an old bookstore with forgotten high school yearbooks, this unusual journey takes us through an eerie coincidence involving different pairs of people separated by several years but sharing identical faces, and finally to a metaphysical, almost surreal, truth of life where - across generations - nothing changes.

* The Mirror - This was a story about twin sisters who mirror each other in every little way. The great divide came the day one of them met a man, leaving the other alone. From then on, they grew apart, much to the shocked disbelief of the whole town. Their final meeting after a long estrangement was a fantastic one, and one that I did not see coming!

* Remember Me? - The eye-opening truth in this simple story touched my heart. Most of us go through the motions of Life, Job, Household Chores. We follow the same routines at the same times; we meet the same people at the same places. But what would happen if one of those fixed elements was removed and presented in a whole new setting? How would you react if you met your local butcher while vacationing in a different country?

* Driving Blind - What if you wore a mask - perhaps to hide a deformity, or perhaps just because you were shy? What if after many years you realized you had forgotten why you had put it on, and had been making up sad stories to justify it? And then, what if, instead of discarding that useless mask, you were so confident in your perfection, you did not feel the need to prove any point? Via conversations between an out-of-town salesman and a 13-year-old boy, these are some of the very soul searching questions this story raises.

I must also mention the sheer horror of Fee Fie Foe Fum, the poetic love of Grand Theft, the tragedy of I Wonder What’s Become Of Sally, the novel idea of Madame et Monsieur Shill and the life and death of Hello, I Must Be Going. It is this range of emotions and ideas that makes Bradbury one of the best creators, and his stories, some of the finest!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rashmi bookmarks “The Hangman’s Hymn”

Paul C. Doherty creates historical crime / mysteries set in the Middle Ages, taking, as his setting, well known stories, legends and myths from Classical Greek, Ancient Egypt etc.

Prior to reading The Hangman’s Hymn, I had read The Cup of Ghosts (from the Mathilde of Westminster Series) and The Mask of Ra, The Horus Killings and The Anubis Slayings (from The Egyptian Mysteries). Those books had been amazing discoveries; I had not read anything along these lines, and was also very impressed with the style of writing - simple, yet powerful enough to take me back hundreds and thousands of years with each read, and with an urgent and undying sense of intrigue!

The Hangman’s Hymn is part of the ‘Canterbury Tales’ series of books (based, of course, on The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, which depicts a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral).

Before I go any further into this review, I have to say, when I borrowed this book from the library, I did not realize I was picking up a book that was part of a series - and not even the first of a series, at that! So this review is for this book alone. Perhaps in conjunction with the whole, it might have been a better read; unfortunately, this tale, narrated by the Carpenter, was not one of my more memorable reads.

The story seemed to waver between horror and a murder mystery - and ended up being weak at both. The horror parts were barely spooky; all the typical ingredients were there - the witches, the un-dead… but it just was not scary (and this coming from a relatively squeamish person!) The mystery element was not enough either - the plot was too dragged out, and eventually the payout was just not there. As an example, one person who is, after a long time, discovered to be in league with the witches, says he took that route, as he was bitter about a missed promotion he felt was rightfully his.

The description of the period and the details that go into creating the ambience (that I have known in Doherty’s other books) are still good.

I do realize it might not be fair to review this book as a standalone… perhaps read as a whole, this portion of a series might not seem quite as weak… in time, I will read the entire series and revisit this Tale!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rashmi bookmarks “Farewell Summer”

Farewell Summer is a novel by Ray Bradbury, and is a sequel to his novel Dandelion Wine. Based on Bradbury’s own childhood in Waukegan, Illinois, Dandelion Wine is set in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, and depicts life in a small town with all the simple joys that go with it. It ends with the conclusion of summer and Farewell Summer, set in October, picks up from that theme.

The story depicts a desperate attempt to stop summer from drawing to an end, to stop youth from passing by, to fight the very passage of time. That strenuous effort is reflected in the running theme of the ‘War’ that is waged by Douglas, Charlie, Will, Bo, Pete, Sam, Henry, Ralph and Tom against old Braling and old Quartermain, and also in the historic attack on the town clock.

Woven with references from Dandelion Wine, such as Mrs. Bentley - the old lady who was never a girl, the Green Machine, the Lonely One, the ravine and the Time Machine, the story starts off with a sharp and bitter divide between the old and the new, goes on to a point where the lines start blurring and the face and regrets of youth and old age become interchangeable, to finally end off in the ultimate handover.

That ultimate handover is the passing of the torch of youth, so to say. As Calvin C. Quartermain and Douglas Spaulding meet one last time on the former’s front yard, the two identities and the two ages merge in and out of each other in that brilliant conversation set to a seesaw. To round off the life cycle, Quartermain’s manhood visits him one last time, and Douglas’ manhood appears to him for the first time ever.

There is a first and a last of everything; there will always be the first kiss, there will always be the last summer… but with every passing, there will also always be hope! Even as Doug and Tom lament the end of summer, they realize that autumn brings with it - the much anticipated - Halloween!

If I had to pick one, I would say Dandelion Wine was a better read - it portrayed a deeper slice of life and evoked a lot more emotion. That said, I don’t think Farewell Summer is meant to be read as anything but a seamless continuation of its predecessor. “Some summers refuse to end”, and the memories of our childhood - no matter how recently or how far back they were created - will always be a cherished part of the rest of our lives.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Rashmi bookmarks “The Haunting of Hill House”

Created by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House marks my foray into the genre of horror! It is about the experiences and relationships of four characters with some past experience in the paranormal; Dr. John Montague, who studies the science of the supernatural, Eleanor Vance, who is led by a freedom from oppressive filial responsibilities, Theodora, who is continuing on her flamboyant way through life and Luke Sanderson, who is attempting to fulfill the obligation of a host. They come to stay at Hill House, an 80-year-old mansion with its own history of suicide and violent deaths.

The first and most lasting impression this book made on me is its atmosphere. From that “first genuinely shining day of summer” to that final night of horror and bleak morning of forced separations, it was the ambience that made it such an amazing read. As Eleanor drives from her sister’s apartment to Hill House, we pass cities and villages, oleander fairylands and country restaurants, tiny cottages, dirty houses and crooked streets, greasy diners and tasteless coffees, rocky roads and unattractive hills, dead leaves and thick tree branches, to reach a clearing by the gate of Hill House… and we are ensnared forever!

Hill House was “a place of despair… with a watchfulness… arrogant and hating… Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed”. When Eleanor first saw it, she felt, “Hill House is vile… get away from here at once”. Earlier I said this story is about four characters; actually it is about five! The fifth - and most intense one - is the house itself, with its bizarre structure, its eerie personality and the inexplicable ‘cold spot’ at its heart.

I also liked the way character sketches are created: no trait is mentioned; personalities are conveyed just based on conversations. It is never said, Mrs. Dudley followed a strict routine - her monotonous repetitions of, “I set the dinner on the dining-room sideboard at six sharp… I have breakfast ready for you at nine” suffice to relay that character trait. It is never mentioned, Mrs. Montague was a strong lady with no time for social niceties. When she arrives at Hill House and her husband hurries out with a “How nice that you got here”, her response of “Did you ever know me not to come when I said I would?” conveys that personality!

Some recurring imageries in the story also add to this weird world - most notably, two lions guarding a house, and the blue cup of stars!

Set in this sinister world, the story is chiefly about Eleanor’s desire to create an identity for herself, her gradual descent to madness and her final identification with the House. I won’t tell you how it ends, but in any case, this book is not just about the ending; it is about a journey, and every moment and every experience of that journey.

I am not a fan of using gore to create horror. It is easy to shock the senses. Anyone can talk of putrefying limbs or slimy intestines. But if one can describe a cold dark day, in a way that the darkness creeps in slowly till the thick blackness suffocates the reader, and the cold enters every pore of his skin and touches the core of his bones… Ah! Now that’s an art! And that’s why this book was such a good read! Journeys end in lovers meeting