The Shape of Things to Come – III

This week, I will be reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


#2. Atonement – Ian McEwan

If a book is made into a movie, I’m NEVER watching the movie before reading the book again.

It’s probably because the movie was so well-made – as I read the book, all the characters came to life in my head as the actors and actresses in the movie. The movie is one of my favourites and I watched it last semester and was absolutely in love with it. But because of my love for the movie, the book, though awesome, seemed sort of paler in comparison.

Nevertheless, McEwan is a genius – his writing is sheer poetry – and even things that would be described crudely by others are written with such finesse that reading the book left me in sheer despair – I dream of writing a novel someday and I honestly don’t think that I can EVER be as good. For example, his use of metaphors is very sui generis – subtle and yet, astoundingly accurate. Also, McEwan liberally uses stream-of-consciousness – and yet, it’s done so masterfully that much of the plot moves forward in the memory and thoughts of the characters.

Moreoever, being primarily a work of metafiction – McEwan expresses the self-doubts that plague any writer of fiction through the character of Briony Tallis. For example, in page 34 of the Vintage edition, McEwan articulates Briony’s wonderment at the distance between something that is deceptively mundane and yet, fraught with incomprehension –

“She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge.”

Another thing I was astounded by is how Briony Tallis emerges from being a character that one despises for her self-righteous inanity and her loathesome ineptitude to do the right thing to a character you just can’t bring yourself to hate completely because you’ve seen so much of the story through her eyes. Perhaps, this ambivalence towards Briony (which makes her the most spectactularly carved out character in the book) was perhaps brought about less effectively in the movie as fans of the movie almost unequivocally express intense hatred for the character in online discussion forums.

McEwan also uses irony to great effect in the book. For example, Briony’s compulsive need for order and for neatly wrapped-up happy endings is irrevocably violated as she becomes the agent who wreaks havoc on other lives.

I loved the book, loved the movie even more and the movie’s OST EVEN more. So I recommend all three – staunchly.

#1. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

“When the weather’s nice, my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie’s grave. I went with them a couple of times, but I cut it out. In the first place, I don’t enjoy seeing him in that crazy cemetery. Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all. It wasn’t too bad when the sun was out, but twice – twice – we were there when it started to rain. It was awful. It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. That’s what nearly drove me crazy. All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner – everybody except Allie. I couldn’t stand it. I know it’s only his body and all that’s in the cemetery, and his soul’s in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn’t stand it anyway. I just wished he wasn’t there. You didn’t know him. If you’d known him, you’d know what I mean. It’s not too bad when the sun’s out, but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out.

Chapter 20

It would be stupid for me to try and critically anazlyze The Catcher in the Rye – because, well of course, I’ve no idea what critically analyzing a book entails and also, because it would just be the sort of thing that Holden would hate.  And it’s so easy to decide that because Salinger has sketched out Holden so vividly – so very clearly that if he ever came alive (like in Inkheart) and I met him, I could probably talk to him like I’d known him for ages.

It’s impossible to read the book without wondering whether all of Holden’s thoughts had flashed through Salinger’s mind when he was sixteen. Though no one can possibly claim to know anything about the reclusive Salinger other than his nearest family, his deeply personal style of writing and that eerily unique talent to take us right into Holden’s head has led to the fact that in most people’s minds, Caulfield and Salinger are interchangeable. So much so that the reason why The Catcher in the Rye was never adopted to screen or to stage was explained by the writer Joyce Maynard by the fact that “The only person who might ever have played Holden Caulfield would have been J. D. Salinger.”

I first read the book more than a year back – we were doing a course in Western Classics and each group had to pick a classic to present on. We chose The Catcher in the Rye – primarily because most of us had always wanted to read it, but had never quite gotten round to it. And the first time I read it, I knew it was unique, I knew it was exceptionally direct and I also knew that it would be ages before anyone could write anything as iconoclastic as that. However, I didn’t quite understand the whole mystique surrounding the protagonist of the book was about – to cite a few (rather dismal examples) – “Mark David Chapman’s shooting of John Lennon (Chapman was arrested with a copy of the book), John Hinckley, Jr.’s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, Robert John Bardo’s shooting of Rebecca Schaeffer, and other murders have also been associated with the novel.” (Wikipedia).

I’m not sure when exactly I first realized that there were parts of HoldenI could relate to – but one distinct memory I have is of reading a column in a magazine and wondering rather inadvertently how Holden would have reacted to such phoniness. And that surprised me – I’ve read a lot of fiction and I’ve been fascinated by several characters (Anne Shirley, Katy Carr, Elizabeth Bennett, Heathcliff to name a few) – but I’d never thought of a character in such real terms. In other words, Salinger had fleshed out Holden Caulfield so masterfully that he seemed as real to me as an acquaintance whom I knew well enough to decide that he would be riled by the hypocrisy in the columnist’s words. And that, I guess, is when I realized just how powerful a character Caulfield really is. Which is why I reread the book over the summer and was absolutely riveted.

It would be impossible to not be riveted- even on a third read as I found out over the last two days. Salinger writes with such raw honesty and in such casual confessional terms that you don’t really feel the brunt of the truth he speaks until you’re suddenly haunted by a seemingly-undistinguished line when you least expect it. I’d resolved, when I decided to start on this blog that I’d post my favourite lines from the books I read. But with this book, that’s nearly impossible. Salinger seems to have written every single sentence with such painstaking accuracy, that each of them could be exalted. And yet, he does not write about anything grand or epic – his tragic hero is not ideal – he’s as commonplace, as weak as any of us – and perhaps, it is that mundanity and that pathetic naivete which we see in him and recognise as our own that has made Holden Caulfield one of the most-loved characters in literary history.

P.S – A few months back, soon after I heard about Salinger’s death, I wrote A Red Hunting Hat. It’s a poem that was inspired by The Catcher in the Rye. Do read. 🙂

The Shape of Things to Come – I

The first book to be talked about here will be The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger.I’ve read it twice before and it’s one of my favouritest books ever – which is why I decided to start off with it. 🙂

I hope to have the review here by Sunday evening.

I’d be delighted if there are readers out there who’ll read with me and offer your feedback to my thoughts about the book.

Begin at the beginning

“If you feel . . . that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to a world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things, then every time you enter a library you might say to yourself, ‘The world is quiet here,’ as a sort of pledge proclaiming reading to be the greater good.”

— Lemony Snicket (The Slippery Slope)

Thus indited Lemony Snicket in his infinite wisdom. And I agree – wholeheartedly.

For as long as I remember, I’ve loved books. Before I was old enough to read them, I used to eat them – my mother tells me that nothing entertained two-year-old me better than chewing my way through rare first editions cherished by my grandfather. However, those infant years spent eating others’ words only augmented my appetite for literature. (And that last sentence is now officially on its way to a sad sad land where bad metaphors go to die.)

Anyway, the point is – I’ve always loved to read. However, over the past few years my reading habits have deteriorated steadily. It all started when I decided that I wanted to read too many books at once – I’d pick books from several different genres and start reading all of them simultaneously and this worked well till my life as a college student began. But once my life as a college student began, reading somehow took a backseat to –  well, almost everything else and I found that I was leaving more and more books unfinished. And that is just sad, isn’t it?

So, I’ve resolved that I will read a book a week. Starting today. And I will blog about the books I read – I am not going to review them per se – but I shall talk about what I liked/disliked in a book, what I learned from a book or what it reminded me of and anything else that’s interesting enough to be written about.

Also, the following are the rules I’ve set for myself –

  • I guess I’ll be able to manage about 60 pages a day – so a book of 500 pages or less gets a week. More pages – number of weeks gets adjusted accordingly.
  • I will be posting every week – unless there are quizzes or end semester exams or other such occurrences of earth-shattering importance. Corollary to this rule – If, for some reason that is not related to an occurrence of earth-shattering importance, I do not post on a particular week, I shall make up for that by three posts over the next two weeks.

I strongly suspect that I enjoy making rules – I mean, the possibilities for corollaries, clauses and sub-clauses are just limitless. Nevertheless, I shall refrain – what with my degenerating reading habits and all, I might well be on the path of evil (as suggested by the wise Snicket in the above quote) and this penchant for making rules might just spur me on to become the next Fascist dictator – and I have no intention of spending the rest of my life being addressed as “Il Duce” by all and sundry.

Well, anyway, this was the mandatory introductory post. I hope with all my heart that I stick to my resolve (and my rules). Wish me luck. 🙂