Milkman by Anna Burns : BOOK REVIEW

‘Coffin after coffin

Seemed to float from the door

Of the packed cathedral

Like blossoms on slow water.’

Seamus Heaney

Northern Ireland has been a state fraught with conflict and violence since time immemorial. The period of The Troubles (late-1960s to 1998) has been one of the most significant periods of unrest in Northern Ireland which had its origin in the Catholic-Protestant fiasco. The former vouched for the rule of the Catholics giving Northern Ireland independence from the British rule whereas the latter believed in the goodwill of the monarchy of the ‘over the water’ in Northern Ireland. The civil war that struck the landmass had rippling effects across Europe and the land ‘over the water’ too. The magnitude and the catastrophic impact of the unrest were widely captured by Irish poets and writers. To name, Seamus Heaney in his collections North (1975) and Field Work (1979) has captured the apocalypse that had struck Northern Ireland and the loss of innocent lives due to the political turmoil engulfing the nation.

The war may have subsided but its impact still resonates in the families residing in Northern Ireland. Born and bred in Northern Ireland, and The Man Booker Prize Winner of 2018 for her book Milkman, Anna Burns excavates the political unrest and turmoil during The Troubles in an unnamed city of Northern Ireland through her 18-year old narrator in the aforementioned, award-winning novel. The novel captures the feud and its consequences in the lives of the people in the most brutal and realistic manner. The book begins with the narrator making her circumstances known to the reader- about her may-be boyfriend, her rendezvous with the milkman and her resolution to keep mum about it, however, things don’t turn out the way she intended them to and gossips of her strange meeting spill out in the war-torn society and the narration gradually starts to uncover the aspects of the social situation persisting around her.

Anna Burns’ resolution to delineate the atrocities of the civil war is praiseworthy. In my opinion, the author has covered a multitude of themes and aspects of social life in the historical fiction unmasking what a war could do to a society and its individuals in general, and a religiously orthodox society in particular. What stood out most in the story was the fiercely involved yet a peculiarly detached voice of the narrator, an 18-year old girl viewing war and society around her; I could imagine Saoirse Ronan excellently pulling off the role of the narrator if a film were ever to be made on this book. However, I would admit that in the first 150-180 pages the willingness to continue with the book would not develop and one would want to put it aside because of the world-building that goes into the narration. The narrator grasps the attention of the readers by narrating an incident taking place that moves the plot and then the narrator goes into recollection or traces the historicity of the incident and that did get slightly dry but once one crosses 150-180 pages, one gets attuned to the world the narrator has chalked out and the story starts to fall into place. The author has brilliantly mapped a dogmatic, war-torn, orthodox society and yet a society of the West by emphasising on the aspects of child marriage, teenage pregnancies leading to irresponsible parents and juvenile delinquency, sexual violence against both men and women, toxic masculinity, the mental impacts of stalking and gossips in society, exploration of the catholic faith, social exclusion, insecurity of old age most importantly, the feminine identity. Burns’ modicum to bring out the identity of the woman and a girl in society through her narrator is one of the highlights of the novel. The book deals with the status of a girl in society, the threats they are continuously posited owing to their feminine identity on a day-to-day basis, and the insecurity with losing the charm and being less attractive for the man; the author has shed light on it by the use of various characters in the girl’s narration. My favourite aspect of this book would be the love stories in the novel; some broke my heart into pieces and some warmed my heart. Alongside, the characters, Milkman and the real milkman, the contrast both the characters offered were crucial to the story and in a way both the characters were symbolic, one symbolised the turmoil killing Northern Ireland and the other represented the people of Northern Ireland and the humanity that lay underneath the rebellious, dystopic façade.

‘I who have stood dumb

when your betraying sisters,

cauled in tar,

wept by the railings,’

Seamus Heaney

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Feats of Valour, Wicked Horns

‘Something, someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch us before we reached heaven.’

-Jack Kerouac

Being born to a family in a metropolis, fortunately, I have never felt religion being imposed upon me. However, the drawback of this lack of imposition is that I have heard very few stories mentioned in the Vedas and other religious texts. Nonetheless, I believe nothing can be out of one’s reach if one is a reader. My belief was proven by an email I received from one of India’s best-selling author, Anuja Chandramouli. She blessed me with a copy of her widely acclaimed novel Yama’s Lieutenant.

The novel opens up with a scene unfolding one of  the sweetest bonds a human being ever gets to share with one another in her/his lifetime. The story starts gaining momentum when the readers are slowly brought face-to-face with the forces of hell, heaven and earth colliding and the universe heading for war and destruction. Agni Prakash, the protagonist, picks up a manuscript left by his twin sister and realises a new dimension to his life that he has never discovered before.

What does the manuscript contain?

What will Agni Prakash realise?

Will his realisations be any good for the world that is leading to an apocalypse?

‘But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?’

-Anthony Doerr

To begin with, I really liked the way the novel began and I couldn’t have asked for anything better to prepare a reader for a book packed with fantastical and mythological adventure. I was impressed by the author’s inclusion of caste violence as it seems to be an issue persisting in the Indian society since time immemorial. On the down side, I seemed to be a little confused with the story as there were a lot of characters and I had to re-read things to get it clear. Being a reader not akin to fantasy, I did feel lost in between the world-building. Admittedly, I took to the chapters in the manuscript and I loved the way the novel drew to a bitter-sweet close. Lastly, I would like to thank Chandramouli for letting me read her work as I got to know about a varied set of characters from the Rig Veda that I hadn’t known before.

 

Vale of Unforgotten Memories

“For I have known them all already, known them all-                                                     Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                                                                 I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-T.S. Eliot

Some ten or twenty years hence, when we would look back at all the events that have shaped us into who we would be, we’d smile to look at all those times we had laughed at the tiny jokes, enjoyed a drink with a friend or two, cried at the times we thought we had lost everything; and realise how much we’ve changed. And it is this realisation that shall keep us alive even when our weakening symmetry might start giving up.

Arthur Golden has written one of the most beautiful memoirs I have come across until now. No, it isn’t a recollection of his life events. Surprisingly, it is a memoir of a woman, to be precise, a geisha. Memoirs of a Geisha is a work of fiction that brings into light the life of one of the geishas of Kyoto, her journey from a small fishing village called Yoroido to being one of the best geishas of Japan. Sayuri, a fisherman’s six-year old daughter comes across a man named Tanaka and that meeting changes her life forever. The day she met Tanaka was the “best and the worst” day of her life.

Was her name really Sayuri?

 What was that about the meeting that changed her life?

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 Golden’s literary composition is beyond praise, he has written this book in first person narrative. Besides, it took him six years to finish this masterpiece as he had written it from three different perspectives before finally coming up with Sayuri’s point of view. The memoir will leave you amazed. There was so much to acquire from this book, the Japanese culture, the lifestyle of geishas, their best times, their worst times. Especially, the get-up of these ladies, believe me you’d urge to be dressed as a geisha and visit Kyoto at least once in your life after reading the spectacular images Golden paints. Honestly, this is one of my favourite books and I would highly recommend you to go and read it as soon as possible. Admittedly, I was flipping through the pages without any hesitation and I could not bring myself to believe that I had finished reading a five-hundred page book within three days.

“We rise; shapes cluster around us in welcome, dissolving and forming again and dissolving again like fireflies in a summer evening.”

-Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Love; for the Explosion to Begin

‘Home is where we have to gather grace.’ – Nissim Ezekiel

Human Beings start their first day of life with their family, their home. Over the years, our home is what shapes us for the years to come. It is the place where you have a place and will always have a place ever and forever. However, we often forget that our home is not us when we are lost in it; each one has their own role to play, each one of us is a separate branch sprouting from the expansive tree. We forget the fact that we define home, the home doesn’t define us.

Focusing on the aforementioned thought, Nicola Yoon penned down the story of Natasha and Daniel in her latest, award-winning novel The Sun is Also a Star. Natasha’s father’s wish to lead a beautiful life in America has toppled down when they get the notice of their deportation to Jamaica in the next twenty four hours. Daniel’s parents’ wishes to see their son become a doctor are worrying them as they see Daniel being reluctant to pursue the Dream. Daniel and Natasha, both under their family’s pressure, seem to have forgotten that their Home is depleting as the family push them ahead and ahead until they are lost.

Are they going to survive the calamity?

What is going to happen when these two stars collide?

Would the universe witness the saddest or the happiest stories of two innocent, confused teenagers?

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I am glad to have not been disappointed by Nicola Yoon after her debut novel. My expectations were pretty low with this story but the satisfaction surpassed the expectations as the story came to a sensible close. I love the premise of Nicola Yoon’s novels, she drops her characters in one of the most complicated situations possible and it pushes me right at the edge of my seat to know what is going to happen with these characters. Besides the minute cheesiness, this story was good. I liked the fact that she brought forth the perspective of various characters into view and how they are important for the movement of the story of these two protagonists. The ending was a little exaggerated, yes, it was sensible and okay but I somehow thought it was an unnecessary add-on to the already well written story. Last but not the least, the cover of this novel is beyond pretty. I can’t but fall in love with the cover over and over again.

‘Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.’

-John Masefield.

 

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THE COVER OF THE BOOK IS everything, everything.

Lost in Oblivion

‘Tear it up, tear it down
Gettin’ lost in the sound of our hearts beatin’
Take me here, take me now
Gettin’ lost in a crowd with you’

  -Jonas Blue, By Your Side

It is spring already and I like to read something which is light, not too long and stories which brings in the colours and feels of the season. I had been hearing a lot about Kasie West on Book Tube and I decided to lay my hands on her recently published Young Adult fiction, By Your Side

By Your Side follows the story of Autumn Collins who gets stuck in her school library before leaving for camping with her friends. Amidst books and the snow showering outside she gets worried as she realises that the library is going to remain closed for the next three days and she has nothing to eat or a phone to inform her parents about her situation. In the moment of terror, she finds that she isn’t alone; there is someone inside the library as well.

Who is Autumn with?

What secrets are going to unveil between the stack of books and closed doors?

Is she going to make it out safely?

I listened to this book as audio book and I do not regret not buying the physical copy at all. I really liked it in the beginning but then it all started to get cheesy and way too romantic for my taste. It felt as though cubes of Mozzarella, Gouda, Cheddar, and Parmesan were splattered all around and that was overwhelming. However, I liked the fact that this book dealt with a mental illness and how its acceptance and tolerance is required among adolescents.

Buy the book By Your Side“>here.

Everything Beyond Nothing

Love, a theme or a feeling which has given birth to wonders of literature and shall remain the core of literature for ages and beyond. It amazes readers to find how interestingly authors deal with the indispensable theme by merging it with lesser known situations. One of the most common situations is when one of the protagonists is sick and their future seems bleak. Books like The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You are a few to suggest with a certain storyline.

Nicola Yoon, an author who stepped into the world of writing with Everything, Everything warmed the hearts of cheesy, mushy, love story fanatics through her debut novel. ‘Everything, Everything’ follows the story of a girl, Madeline Whittier aka Maddy who is suffering from a disease which suggests her being allergic to the world outside her home. She keeps to her home with her caring mother and her loving nurse. She lives her life through her books and the window overlooking her air-filtered bubble of a room. Incidentally, a new family turns up in the house opposite hers and then she discovers the cutest guy she has seen in her life, Olly.

“It made me think that everything was about to arrive- the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever.”

-Jack Kerouac

I was really looking forward to the ending; it kept me at the edge of my seat. I loved the way this book was written. Admittedly, I was enjoying the first two hundred and fifty pages. Unfortunately, I was pretty dissatisfied with the climax and the unprecedented turn of events. Nonetheless, I really liked the illustrations, snippets of conversations attached to the story; they made the reading enjoyable and fun.

READ IT BEFORE THE FILM HITS THE CINEMAS!!!!!!

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Still from the Film 

Inglorious Bastards

Nowadays, I am on the hunt for books which have been awarded for its contents and story line. On my way, I came across a book by an Irish author who had won the Baileys Women Prize for Fiction in 2016 and Desmond Elliott Prize in 2016 for her novel depicting the underworld of Cork, Ireland.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney published in 2015, begins with the story of an old woman murdering a lad who had barged into her house. The story then focuses on her son Jimmy, the most feared gangster in Cork, who lures his buddy Tony, stuck up with five kids and his teenage kid, Ryan, who, Tony believes is on his way to wreck his life, to clear up the mess his mother had created. Things move according to the plan until the lad’s girlfriend, Georgie, embarks on a search for him.

“… for how good intentions so easily dishonoured ever have a chance of saving her?”     -Lisa McInerney

Is Georgie going to find out the murderer?

What are the truths that shall unfold amidst the hullabaloo?

Will justice prevail?

I was a little confused by the movement of the story in the beginning but the moment I identified the different characters and their relations to each other it all got sorted. I loved the novel, the storyline, the complexity of each character and the amount of themes thread together in the making of the story. It was worth it. No wonder it won two laurels. I would highly recommend this book to people who are in the mood to pick up some moving yet disturbing novel in the adult fiction.

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Between the Age of Innocence and Experience

Having promised myself to try out diverse genres in book and books which have caught the interest of various readers, I decided to pick up Benjamin Alire Saenz’s The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Recently, Saenz had won the Pen Faulkner Award, Stonewall Book Award, Pura Belpre Award, Lambda Literary Award and many more for his book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (which I haven’t read yet).

So, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life begins with the story of a seventeen-year old Salvador, who is bullied in his school by one or two pricks because his father is gay. Being an adopted child, he often wonders who his biological father might be and if he has picked up the skill to punch bullies by his biological parent because his real father is the kindest and understanding human being one could come across in their lives. Trapped in the inexplicability of his various life decisions, his future and the failing health of his dearest grandmother, he starts unhooking various straps of his limited boundaries and tries to understand life and death as two essential entities of life and how beautiful it is to love the ones who love you and relish in the imperfections of life.

How is Salvador going to deal with the idiosyncrasies of his mates?

What is he going to learn from people around him?

Will he be able to simply the inexplicable logic of his life?

“And the angel told Tom, if he’d be good boy,                                                                            He’d have God for his father, and never want joy.”                                                                                                                                                               -William Blake.

I listened to it as an audiobook and it was 11 hours and 30 minutes long which is WAY too long for a contemporary. To begin with, I really liked the way the novel began; perfect beginning to a story with well-thought out characters but… but then the novel happened.
Salvador’s father, a very inspiring father indeed but how can a human being exist without even ONE fault. He seemed completely faultless to me, totally, and I found that absurd.
Everything is happy-happy and full of love among the three friends (not anything against having such a healthy relationship but…), how can three teenagers not have a little, even a little fight among themselves!?
This book actually read more like a moral education book. God, that pissed me so much. I mean, yes, I agree that every book inculcates some kind of moral values to the reader but this book was jaded (YES, JADED) with stuff being good and all. For instance things like,  Don’t use the word “bitch” “fuck”, don’t drink; I mean, why?
It was pretty dramatic in some parts of which I cannot talk about as it’d be a spoiler.
Lastly, the phrase “No, boy, no.” pissed me off and I felt like pulling out the vocal chords of the narrator (I am so sorry for conjuring such violent imaginations but the incessant use of that phrase totally ticked me off.)
Okay, so the reason why I gave this novel a 3 star even after ranting so much about it was-:
1- Salvador’s Father (haven’t read anything about a father who’s gay so I was quite interested in knowing him as a person)
2- No romance or anything cliché between a boy and a girl who are not related through blood ties.
3- Focuses on Friendship and Family which is generally ignored by contemporary writers.

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New Year and New Beginnings

My resolution for 2017 is to try and step out of my comfort zones and lay my hands on genres which do not attract me every so often. One such genre is Science Fiction. The name itself sends impulses to retract my steps even though I don’t want to.

With a challenge ahead of me, I placed an order for Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff after binge watching booktube videos. I will keep the review pretty short because the lesser you know the better it is to actually read it. Basically, the story is set in 2575 when a planet is attacked by a villainous megacorporation and it follows the journey of Ezra Mason and Kady Grant.

Admittedly, I loved the manner in which the book was penned down. The use of graphics, reports, IM conversations, emails was unique and impressive.I would highly suggest all you science fanatics and computer aficionados to pick this up if your looking for dystopian thriller. Unfortunately, I realised this genre is simply not meant for me and I was disappointed in this book.

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A small look at what’s inside. Photo Courtesy- Google Images.

 

 

Trampled

 

“His soul stretched tight across the skies

That fade behind a city block,

Or trampled by insistent feet”

-T.S. Eliot

Dystopia is one of my favourite genres. I just love how the author paints a world where everything is wrong and in a mess and there is one character or a couple of characters fighting against it and for themselves. The better it sounds the difficult it is to actually deal with. Acting on the suggestion of my favourite teacher, I picked up Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, a dystopian novel which was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003 and Booker Prize in 1999.

Set in the South African city of Cape Town, the book follows the story an English Professor, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, who has an impulsive affair with one of his students. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. He is willing to admit his guilt but he refuses to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding. However, his escape to the countryside is not welcomed with warmth and mirth. He and his daughter become victims of a savage attack which brings into relief all the fault lines in their relationship.

The setting of this book is fabulous and apt, set in the regions of Africa dominated by anarchy, racist attitudes, where seeing someone die in front of your eyes is not really a big deal resonates in each and every character of the book. For literature lovers, you will enjoy this book because the use of some literary allusions gives the story its final shape. Moving into the language and writing, I don’t think any other author could have managed to present the book the way Coetzee has. With his excellent use of simple words, subtle images, presentation of character born in a violent environment, this book actually stands out from other dystopian fictions I have read. Although, I wouldn’t say this is my favourite dystopian novel. To fully grasp the stuff this book deals with, I believe, it requires a certain age and maturity which I haven’t achieved until now. Anyway, I would surely pick this book up after three-four years and read it.