Monthly Archives: December 2007

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Paddy ClarkePaddy Clarke is not a funny story. The overwhelming feeling is one of palpable sadness, despite several humourous episodes, especially towards the earlier parts of the book. Ten year old Paddy, the eldest son of a large Irish family in fictitious(?) Barrytown of the sixties, thoroughly enjoys the company of his friends – Kevin, Liam, Aidan, Ian McEvoy and James O’Keefe – playing football, stealing magazines, knocking on doors to pester unsuspecting neighbours, writing names in wet cement, tussles among each other, and even the cruel Zentoga cult ritual. He also loves his younger brother, whom he endearingly calls Sinbad, though he is mostly a bully to him, giving him dead legs and showing him who’s the eldest, more out of habit, because little brothers are to be hated. There are numerous amusing incidents, one where an inspired Paddy plays Father Damien, and gets Sinbad to play a leper.

–Do it again.

Sinbad grabbed my legs.

–No, no, Kam – Kam

—Kamiano!

—I can’t remember it.

—Kamiano.

—Can I not just say Patrick?

—No, I said. Do it again and you’d better get it right.

—I don’t want to.

I gave him half a Chinese torture. He grabbed my legs.

—Lower down.

—How?

—Lower.

—You’ll kick me.

—I won’t. I will if you don’t.

Sinbad grabbed me around the ankles. He held me tight so my feet were stuck.

—No, no Kamiano! We want to stay as long as you are here.

—Okay my children, I said. —You can stay.

—Thanks very much, Kamiano, said Sinbad.

He wouldn’t let go of my feet.

 

As Paddy’s Ma and Da begin to drift apart, he becomes increasingly aware of their rift, the raised voices, slamming doors, the tense moods. He tries to reason: “Why didn’t Da like Ma?” His Ma was fine, much nicer than others’. It must be Da. “It was all him against her”. But in the end, he decides “it took two to Tango”.

There must have been a reason why he hated Ma. There must be something wrong with her, at least one thing. I couldn’t see it. I wanted to. I wanted to understand. I wanted to be on both sides. He was my da.

In the wake of the separation, Paddy’s own world begins to change. He picks a fight with his best friend Kevin, falls out of his group, finds himself isolated. But he has grown up, starting to see himself as the “man of the house”, for his father would leave. “They were only kids” — he forgives the teasing of his erstwhile friends.

Roddy Doyle’s prose is sparse, his minimalistic style revealing Paddy’s world in an unsentimental manner. He retains a narrative that is inchoate and jumbled, very appropriate for the perspective of a ten year old. The combination turns out to be a very effective one, making us powerfully aware of the cruelties we are capable of and how the bitterness of parents can cloud the lives of their children.

A Beneficiary by Nadine Gordimer

Charlotte, an attractive twenty something woman, is confronted by a secret upon her mother’s death.  In unraveling what is and what is not, the mystery surrounding her own origin, her doubts are resolved in the clarity of a father’s love.

            Gordimer’s style is succinct and incisive, frequently interrogative in this piece, probing inwards for answers. She underplays Charlotte’s emotional turmoil, but the angst is not undermined.

 
It is an irony that I should begin reading Nadine Gordimer’s works with the last published story. Nonetheless, it is a satisfying one, successful in having me want to read more of her earlier works. Titled “A Beneficiary”, this one came out in a May 2007 New Yorker issue. It is also available online:

http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2007/05/21/070521fi_fiction_gordimer

Book Awards Reading Challenge

Here’s motivation for the coming days.

bookawardsfinal.jpg

The ones finished have links to review pages.

Commonwealth Writers’

1992 – Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey

1994 – Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

1996 – Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

 

Booker

1974 The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer

1981 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

1989 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

1993 Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

1997 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998 Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan

1999 Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

2006 The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

 

Pulitzer

2000 – Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri

Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry

Such A Long JourneyGustad Noble, indeed a noble man, struggles through the crises besotting his life. His eldest son spurns IIT, leaves home to avoid the bitter squabbles with him. His best friend disappears, then entwines him in a mysterious scheme with suspicious money. His daughter falls sick. Another good friend has cancer, dies. War breaks out with Pakistan over Bangladesh. Despite his vicissitudes, Gustad is triumphant at the end of a ravaging, tiresome journey.

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ prize in 1992, this was Mistry’s first novel, after his Swimming Lessons short story collection. As a first, it is understandably sharper and more pungent, like the first works of many other writers. It also appears slightly more plot inclined than his later works, reminiscing occasionally the elements of a good detective story. At the same time, there are some jagged edges, like needlessly overwrought metaphoric embellishments and language display. These however, do not disfavor the writing, which is top notch, or the story, which is engrossing.

Mistry’s scathing observations unravel the pretensions of a fledging democracy and the hopelessness of a defunct civic system. There’s also humour, with Dishawji’s lewd jokes and antics and Peerbhoy Panwallah’s yarn spinners, domestic conflicts between Gustad, Shorab and Dilnavaz that will touch a familiar, disturbing chord, and deeply moving bonds of friendship between Gustad and his two closest friends – Jimmy Bilimoria and Dishawji.

Mistry reflects on death, and details of the Parsi rituals of last rite. He handles the theme of death and loss more poignantly in “Family Matters”, but here too it is not insubstantial. There is also classical music, a recurring theme in all his novels – Dina’s husband’s violin in “A Fine Balance”, the ground floor violin player who likes practicing in the nude in “Family Matters” (I forget her name) and who plays to Nariman’s request in his death bed, and Gustad’s old friend Malcolm in this novel, a music teacher fallen on bad times having to take up a far more pedestrian job. Mistry conveys music’s eternal charms that outlive human frailties, a suitable backdrop soothing distraught lives. Such a long journey also has a bigger dose of the arcane supernatural than Mistry’s other works, as Dilnavaz begins to rely more and more on Mrs. Kutputia’s magic spells to overcome her ever growing woes.

The story is set in Bombay during the early seventies, at the time of India’s second war with Pakistan, in the days just before Indira Gandhi’s infamous emergency. Mistry portrays Indira as a power hungry statesman, a dictator in the making with police tactics and nepotism to champion the cause of her incapable son Sanjay.

An intriguing tale that mixes politics, love, espionage, friendship, and fate, Such a long journey is also a profound, insightful outlook on the many troubles plaguing modern India. A fascinating read.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

theremainsoftheday.jpg There is an unnamable mysterious quality to Ishiguro’s novel. Words like sly, minimal and simple come to mind, but none describes the work completely. Yet those are some of its discernible qualities. It does not feel the author is trying to do much at any point of time, maintaining an even, muted style of the perfect Englishman. But the magic is achieved just by that very manner, successfully lining the work with a tinge of sadness. Just the right amount.

Mr. Stevens, the quintessential English butler, has much to look back upon, in an illustrious career with one Lord Darlington. He perhaps carries the banner of butlerism higher than most, for nothing else in life has been of greater interest or importance than fulfilling his duty in the service of his lordship. In the sunset of his career, he looks back upon his life during a road trip in the English countryside that he undertakes to meet one of his earlier acquaintances, Mrs. Benn, the erstwhile Miss Kenton who served under him in Darlington Hall, and who had, in his heart roused strange, unexplained feelings that were never expressed. At the end of the rather amusing journey however, his unshakable faith in the “dignity” of his profession is a bit shaken.

Emotions, in the typical English way, are held back, but do not go unnoticed in the novel’s sparse, restrained narrative. It evokes a picture of the all English butler of a bygone era, a feeling of nostalgia for the same.

 

A thoroughly deserving award (Booker) for a thoroughly well written book. Now for the movie, which I cannot wait to see. Who could be better than Anthony Hopkins as Mr. Stevens?

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

A tale of the pains of old age and disease, Family Matters is also a reflection on ties that bind us in joy yet enmesh us in misery at the same time. It’s a statement on the pitfalls of succumbing to blind tradition disregarding love and logic, both in the matters of the family and in the bigger socio political scene.

Family Matters Like his other works, the setting is Bombay, this time during Shiv Sena rule post Babri Masjid turmoil of the 90s. Mistry brings out the brutality the Shiv Sena regime through numerous incisive remarks of his characters and portraying a Muslim victim of the riots. At times it does feel like he has adopted a populist anti Hindu fundamentalist agenda through some stereotypical characters (Mr. Kapur, his Muslim protege Husain). But really, it’s the sad outcome of any kind of fundamentalism, or orthodoxy, that the novel brings out in the end. Nariman Vakeel is as much a victim as a perpetrator. While one is touched by his tragic life, there’s also surprise and a certain anger one experiences in how an educated, rather unconventional Parsi can relent to stupid parental pressures into disavowing the love of his life. While this surprise is implicit, leading to questions on the genuineness of the Nariman character itself, the other surprise blows up in ones face. No, unfurls like a curtain is more appropriate, no subtlety there, for Yezad, the book’s other principal, is gradually transformed from an unbeliever to a staunch, orthodox Parsi. Yet, the transformation brings out in him larger human qualities, helps him understand Nariman’s pain, realize the ephemeral nature of life itself.

 

What folly made young people, even those in middle age, think they were immortal? How much better, their lives, if they could remember the end. Carrying your death with you every day would make it hard to waste tie on unkindness and anger and bitterness, on anything petty. That was the secret: remembering your dying time, in order to keep the stupid and ugly out of your living time.”

 

Undoubtedly the best lines of the book.

 

More subdued than “A Fine Balance”, his preceding work, this is nonetheless a poignant story, flowing with excellent narration, subtle wit and sarcasm, one quite difficult to abandon till the end.