Friday, April 30, 2010

A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood

With the recent release of the film adaptation of this book, it surged again in the circulation and discussion in the literary world. Christopher Isherwood's tale of a gay College Professor  in California, through one of his usual days in existence.  In an interestingly mixed narrative, shifting between first person and third person , also into his alter ego , the reader goes through sympathetically through his daily motions..

"Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken , then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognised. I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now".

"Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face - the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young-man all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and like fossils dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us- we have died- what is there to be afraid of ?
Obediently, it washes, shaves, brushes its hair; for it accepts its responsibilities to the others. It is even glad that it has its place among them.. it knows its name. It is called George"

Living an isolated life for eight months, after the death of his mate Jim , who died in a car crash, George is a lone soul in every sense. His alternate sexual preferences which he does not hide, makes him aloof from the neighbours, his students and colleagues to a large extent. We follow him from his daily motion from being awake in the morning , brushing and getting ready for his teaching assignments, his visits to the friend of Jim, who is in her deathbed, a dinner meeting with friend Charlotte , before having another boozy evening where he is accompanied by Kenny , one of his student, whom he invites to his house.

His life is transparent. There is no pretentious self in motion. Be his sexuality, his admiration for good looking men ( those playing tennis in body tight attire, those in the Gym which he frequent) , his love and loss of his friend Jim, his open and frank discussion with Charlie and Kenny.  There is always a longing for a company, and though he likes the company of Charlie, and given the fact that she has been desiring for him despite his known orientation, he rejects her advances. ( It is not that she does not know his preferences, but as he says "Do women ever stop trying? No. But, because they never stop, they learn to be good losers.").  But it was in the evening when Kenny comes in to the Gay Bar which George frequent, his hidden desire and lust came out in the open. Guided by the alcohol, he looses himself and flirts with the young boy, goes for a swim in the sea, invites him home, provide him with dress before he himself fall into dreamy sleeps and hallucinations of death amidst his desire for a new company

Though the theme and sequence looks simple, the book is fabulous for the way Isherwood had treated the subject. The use of outstanding prose,  while on the edge of intellectually stimulating, but retaining the simplicity. The portrayal of character George, in its true sense, and all humility. He is very open in every engagement.

Proud of his European origins, his take on the cold war era with the Cuban Missile crisis at its peak, there is discussion on potential war with USSR at the academic circles, George is pre-occupied with his on fights for survival. He is a British living in America, a homo sexual in a heterosexual world, intellect to the dull academics and neighbours, man with exquisite tastes to the dull and stupid surroundings.

There is melancholy in the reading, without any written words. He on his part is witty, and flirtatious ( at times) and intelligent but you cant but sympathise with George.

One outstanding work of literature in 152 pages. Stunning prose, beautifully formed sentences, appropriate tonal and lyrical shifts .The more you read, your admiration grow for this brilliant writer. I have to watch the adaptation soon.  Also, to find out other books and get hold of them.


A Single Man  ( 1964 )

Christopher Isherwood
Vintage Classic

152 Pages


Here are some brilliant reviews of this book : Asylum , The Guardian , Speakitsname, shigekuni

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Absolution - Olaf Olafsson

It is very rare that you like a novel whose protagonist is a dislikable character. But, that alone isn't the reason why I do not think high about this book. It definitely readable but not one that require re-read. First novel in English, by the Icelandic writer, who is currently residing in the US. On his personal side, I understand he is the vice president of a large media and entertainment empire.

Petur Petursson, an icelandic emigre to the US lives his last days of life reminiscing the old days. On his part, he document his reminiscence in paper ( and later on tape! ), which posthumously gets to the attorney who decides to go through these pages. Peter ( as he changed his name to the anglicised world) suffers from the crime he supposed to have committed half a century ago , which caused him loose his once girlfriend and had to flee to US ( and from himself). Ever since, his life was directly or indirectly controlled by the guilt that he carried on himself. Unable to be a good husband, a good father to his children, he lived all his life on increasing his financial position, while at work and while running a successful enterprise.

Now living alone, divorced from his second wife, negotiated the separation contract to his advantage ( still convincing himself, that he has given more than what the family deserved) , continuously insulting and ridiculing his son , whenever they attempt to speak or reconcile with him. A Cambodian lady, living with him to take care of his errands, cook and nurse him, in company along with his collection of exotic wines, he lives an isolated life. His suspicion is that his wife and children ( especially his daughter) is plotting to see his death ( He even refuses to attend the funeral of his ex-wife, despite the pleading of his son to visit the mother in her death bed and to attend the funeral later). Because of which, he do not trust the assistant too, whom he depends on his daily routine, completely.

He had left his home town in Iceland, to pursue his study in Denmark, and to follow his love as she moved to Copenhagen. The days were the peak of the WWII, and like every European country, Denmark was also occupied by German soldiers. Though the love ( at least on his part) flourished in the initial months, the girl supposed to have found another friend and start spending more of her time with him. Vengeful, and plotting and even dreaming ( one dream sequence where he managed to kill him with a revolver in an isolated place, and leaving the blame to the Germans) of removing his perceived villain from the scene. As many Icelanders, he too decides to leave the mainland Europe to the safer havens, but not before making sure that his "enemy" has been done in , by informing the German soldiers about his involvement in the underground resistance movement. Though the 'informer' remain a secret, the guilt on him was immediate and was lasting till his days to grave.

A "Crime and Punishment" type of novel, but much plain and simple. While the central character is strong, the rest of the plot did not have any moment of stickiness.
Anchor Publishers

272 Pages

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Autobiography - Dickie Bird

Sports scene is full of heroes and people with some eccentric characters. They always create enough interest even after their retirement. Most of them make 'hay while the sun shine' by publishing their memoirs, even before their retirement. However, it is seldom that people from the supporting function gets so much attention. Harold 'Dicky' Bird was one such character. One of the most celebrated umpires of modern cricket, he was one of the stars of the game. His retirement from the international cricket umpiring was an huge affair. Of course, we have some interesting characters in the umpiring field, these days in New Zealander, Billi Bowden, Australian Darryl Harper and West Indian Steve Buckner. But it was with Dicky Bird and his compatriot David Shepard the umpiring came into lime light.
Born to a miner in Barnsley, Dicky Bird started as a footballer like all the youngsters. An accident caused knee problem prevented his football career, and continued his focus in the next passion, cricket. His introduction to Barnsley club wasn't all that impressive. The batting coach had a look at the skinny boy came into nets and promptly send him back , almost ending his cricketing dreams. However, a kind man took pity on the weeping young boy and bowled for him to bat for the rest of the evening. Along with the celebrated Yorkshiremen, Dickie was also inducted into the Barnsley Club and later to the Yorkshire Club to play for county. He had reasonable success there in the company of Freddy Trueman, Geoff Boycott and few other English players. The star studded Yorkshire team prevented him with enough appearances in the county matches, keeping him at the 12th man slot. Whenever the stars were called for the country duty, he get the chance which he made use, only to relinquish the place to the returning players. Once, even after scoring a match winning 181 against Glamorgan, he had to sit out of the next match, to pave way to the regulars. All these events, and being the 12th man in the side made him to switch the side to Leicester, which he still believes as the gravest mistake he did in his life. He continued his not so good life at Leicester for 4 to 5 years, before taking up assignment to coach college teams, which took him to far of places like South Africa and Nigeria.

The coaching stint also did not last long, before he finally decided to take up umpiring as a full time job. Since, then he did not have to look back. Considered as one of the best umpires in the modern times, he held the distinction of standing over 66 tests and 90 odd one day internationals, including the initial three world cup finals. Respected world over, both by the crowd and the players, Dickie Bird talks about some of his interesting stories in his inimitable humour. One of my favorite is when England was playing Australia , Allan Lamb comes out to bat carrying his mobile phone in his pocket. Instead of taking guard, he came over to the square leg where Dickie was standing and promptly handed over the phone, instructing to take any calls which come, as he is expecting some important calls. As expected, the phone rang and . To his surprise, none other than Ian Botham was at the other end. Came the instruction crips and clear, "Tell that Lamby to play the shots or get out".

His memoirs gives us insight to many such interesting characters in the world cricket, known to us. There are many English players of his era comes in the discussion so are some of the known international players across the continents. Dickie Bird also spend whole lot of pages to the unsung heroes of the cricket. The Groundsmen is one of such team. He covers various groundsmen across England, and shos his admiration to their work. Groundsmen are one such team who are always at the receiving end.
For the fans of cricket, this one interesting book. However, as an autobiography, one can not call this as a good work. It is easy reading, it does keep your interest alive with stories and incidents concerned with your heroes.

Before I end this, I will also give you one more incident narrated by Dickie Bird elsewhere ( not in this book, I guess in an article called 'from the pavilion end')..

"Bomber" Wells, a spin bowler and great character, played for Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire. He used to bat at No.11 since one couldn't bat any lower. Of him, They used to paraphrase Compton's famous words describing and equally inept runner;

"When he shouts 'YES' for a run, it is merely the basis for further negotiations!"

Incidentally, Compton was no better. John Warr said, of Compton "He was the only person who would call you for a run and wish you luck at the same time." Anyway, when Wells played for Gloucs, he had an equally horrendous runner as the No.10. During a county match, horror of horrors.......both got injured. *Both* opted for runners when it was their turn to bat. Bomber played a ball on the off, called for a run, forgot he had a runner and ran himself. Ditto at the other end. In the melee, someone decided that a second run was on. Now we had *all four* running. Due to the confusion and constant shouts of "YES" "NO", eventually, *all* of them ran to the same end. Note - at this point in time, the entire ground is rolling on the floor laughing their behinds out. One of the fielders - brave lad - stops laughing for a minute, picks the ball and throws down the wicket at the other end. Umpire Alec Skelding looks very seriously at the four and calmly informs them "One of you b*****s is out. I don't know which. *You* decide and inform the bloody scorers!".

My Autobiography ( 1997 )

Harold Dennis Bird ( Dickie Bird) with Keith Lodge

Coronet Books

479 Pages


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hopscotch - Julio Cortazar

Hopscotch , as the writer tells us is many novels in one book. The beginning of the books gives the reader the various options of reading. One way is to read conventionally, from chapter 1 to chapter 56. The story ends there, and the remaining chapters are extendable pages. The other option is to read the book as per the table given by the writer himself ( that is the way he wanted to you to read the book), starting from chapter 73 and then following the direction at the end of each chapter. You can also invent your own ways of reading, either odd numbered chapters or even numbered ..etc. It gives you a possibility of multiple reading.

Not only with various reading of chapters , Cortazar is also experimenting with telling two stories in one chapter ( no 34) , alternating lines corresponds to two separate threads. Thus, it makes a difficult and challenging reading experience. This complexity, this style and the often felt frustration while reading is makes this a worthwhile reading exercise.

Cortazar, in one interview says "The general idea behind Hopscotch, you see, is the proof of a failure and the hope of a victory. But the book doesn't propose any solution; it simply limits itself to showing the possible paths one can take to knock down the wall, to see what's on the other side."

Horacio Oliveira is a wannabe writer, intellectual living in Paris. He along with his Lover ( Lucia , called La Maga ) and circle of friends from the same fraternity ( they call themselves 'The Club'), spent their evenings drinking, smoking and listening to Jazz discussing various intellectual points. Oliveira, the most recent but the most influential of the lot has been living with La Maga for several months. Things changes after the return of La Maga's son Racamadour, after La Maga fails to pay his monthly expenses for his stay in Belgium. Racamadour has been ill and instead of treating him at the hospital , she decides to take care of him at home. Arrival of Racamadour, brings troubles to the relationship, and Oliveira frequents another girl Pola as his new found love, while the Club continue to meet and discuss topics of literary, art and philosophy. Death of Racamadour, changes the life of La Maga and one day she leave the flat. Oliveira's attempt to find her fails as various news of her returning to Montevideo or the news of unidentified corpse in the Seine shakes him up .

The second part of the novel follows Oliveira to Buenos Aires. After a failed attempt to find La Maga in Montevideo, he returns to his homeland, befriends Monola Traveler. Traveler and his wife Talita, works in the circus as administrators, helps him find a job there after a failed attempts to be a fabric seller. Later the team move to administer a mental asylum. the image and memory of La Maga continue to haunt Oliveira, and the visions of her coupled with the images of Talita causes enough despair to Oliveira taking him to the brink of committing suicide.

The entire novel is fragmented images of Oliveira. For all this book is referred as a hypertext. Alternating between first person and third person narrative as appropriate, looking from various character angle, the book as you read gives you various perspective of narration. The game of hopscotch with the characters, and with the readers.

Written during the time of experimental writing ( 1960s has brought out some of the most outstanding literature from the Latin America), Cortazar too does one of the most complex and significant novel of that era. While the book demand multiple reading, I am still at loss of words to describe the book. All I can say was this is one fantastic book.


Hopscotch ( 1963 )

Julio Cortazar ( translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa )

Pantheon Books

564 Pages

Rs 650

Further read : Powers Review,, The Electronics Labrynth