Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dear Author, “What’s wrong with you?”

Inheritance, Book 4, Christopher  Paolini
I have just finished reading the fouth and final book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance / Eragon series. Finally. And boy, was it a chore! It is an extremely popular series and loads of people all round the world apparently love it. I don’t. I read the final book simply as an obligation.

There are several other wildly successful and loved books which I barely can tolerate and some I outright dislike. I know saying such things aloud is blasphemy (grins) but I think I would dedicate this post to such books / book series. The books are in no particular order and some may even have started out promisingly before crumbling into a heap of illogic, no resolutions and plain ol’ ‘get-it-over-already’.

  • Twilight Series, Stephanie Meyer: Okay, don’t shoot me. Part I of the final book’s movie version, “Breaking Dawn” released earlier this week and is apparently generating mass hysteria and wild-eyed frenzy all over the world. I, for one, have difficulty understanding the lure. The first book starts off with an interesting plot. Girl moves to a new place, new school. Girl is attracted to a mysterious, good-looking class mate. Boy likes her back though he has a strange way of showing it. Turns out he is a vampire – a vegetarian vampire, if you will – and he tries to resist her because he wants to protect her from his kind. But it’s true love for Bella Swan and she is willing to sacrifice everything for him. After an abduction and rescue from another psychotic vampire, all’s well in their world. Okay, the girl – I can’t call her heroine, she has to display some guts for that – is plain insipid, whiny and clingy. Edward – the vampire hero - is intriguing and noble, the shining knights kind sans the armour. But it’s all a little different, so I like it. Then the horror starts in the second book. All of a sudden, you have vampire royalty threatening to kill our oh-so-delectable heroine. The werewolves come to party but there is just one problem – they are arch enemies of vampires. And then there’s Jacob, Bella’s best friend, who turns out to be a werewolf and in love with Bella. Guess, what happens next. In one truly cringeworthy and incredulous scene, Bella is camped out in snowy mountains with both the vampire and the werewolf – they are united in their goal to protect little Ms. Damsel-in-perpetual-danger. I can’t precisely remember why. And because she is freezing and her boyfriend Edward being vampire is cold to touch, she sleeps – literally – with Jacob to get warm and here’s the whopper, with Edward’s permission. He is a saint, ain’t he? But the final cake is taken by *spoiler ahead* when Jacob finds himself mated for life with Edward and Bella’s daughter literally the moment she is born and just like that the triangle becomes a weird set of parallel lines! “spoiler ends* 
  • The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho: I read quite often how celebs cite this book as their favourite. A fabulous read which in a way opens their eyes to the truth of life. Me? I found it difficult to finish, despite its slim size and simple language. Because it moralizes. Preaches. And I hate that kind of tone. It reminds me of Moral Science lessons in school and I couldn’t stand the subject. At the end of every chapter, there is almost a moral of the story kind of lesson. It does have its moments though. I especially liked the concept of how the entire universe conspires to help you attain the one thing you truly desire. The story is simple but pretentious – a feat that I have not seen many authors accomplish and I am not too sure that I like it.
  •  Eragon / Inheritance Series, Christopher Paolini: I just couldn't get over how ambitious it tried to be while finding its inspiration in two exceptional and unparalleled worlds that Rowling and J.R.R Tolkien created. The quest to defeat an all pervasive evil ruler - Galbatorix - with the help of various magical species from elves to dwarves and dragons (the last alone were a new addition to this world) seems like a pale imitation of the epic battle that Aragorn (see how even the name is similar), Frondo, Gandalf and others wage against Sauron in Lord of the Rings. In fact, there is a hint of Hunger Games also in the last throes of the book.  And Eragon is no epic hero. The secondary characters like Roran, Nasauda and Murtagh are more interesting. In fact, it is one of my peeves that Paolini leaves so much unresolved when it comes to these people.  Eragon is insipid and is only a circumstantial hero. He would have been very ordinary if a dragon had not hatched for him. He whines quite a lot. He has no true ties except with Saphira, his dragon. He pines for Arya, the elf but never has the courage to speak to her freely. Roran, on the other hand, is a self-made hero. Here is a man, a hero who wins his battles through sheer courage, ingenuity and wit, without magic. A true master of his fate. This holds true of Nasauda too. A young girl, barely older than Eragon, she leads an epic army into a war against the greatest evil. She has no magic in her. But she is gritty, a great strategist and an astute leader. She has her moments of vanity and regret but they quickly pass. And Muratgh! I wish Paolini had taken more time and effort to sketch that particular strain. Even Galbatorix - when we finally - see him comes across as quite ordinary for a villain competing with the likes of Voldemort or Sauron. Trust me when I say that the climax was quite anti-climactic. Plus, the book could have been half in length. 
  •  Books by Chetan Bhagat: I have read two and have no intention of reading others. At least, not because I want to. It could be because my sister has bought one and for the lack of anything better I do so. I have read One Night at Call Centre and Three Mistakes of my Life. If I were to write about all the things I dislike about his books, I would never stop. But for starters how about the stories themselves, which are like bad Bollywood potboilers in English. Phone call from God, anyone? And what about romancing best friend’s sister and sleeping with her on the terrace? That’s certainly original. Then there’s the writing style and language. Which is not too bad, if you were a seventh standard student writing in school magazine. Then it would have shown potential. I know a lot of people like his books especially because the language is everyday, simple English but I would direct them to the inimitable R. K. Narayan to see how the same tool can be used to greater and beautiful effect. 
  • A House for Mr. Biswas, V. S. Naipual: No! I can see you gasping in horror. It is a classic. Critically acclaimed. A literary gem. Sorry, I didn’t like it. I felt no empathy for Mr. Biswas or his miserable little quest for a house. And not because his life has no grandeur of an epic or the shine, no matter how brittle, of a posh sophisticated society. Simply because, his character seems like one drawn out torture with no little moments of happiness at all. If you have read the great Hindi author Premchand, you would see what I am talking about. he also writes about the common man – the farmer, the daily labourer, the shepherd – but there are moments in his stories, even when they end tragically, where the characters see hope and for a shining instant, all’s well with the world. Naipual’s book lacks that. 

That’s it for now. There are some others that I could talk about but I see the length of my post and realize that it is a potential sleeping drug. :-) 

But I would love to hear about books that you did not like and then we can compare notes.

Until then, ciao.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ukraine Unexplored

So, I am back home after a trip to Ukraine. Yes, you heard right. Ukraine.

When I was first told about the trip, I was like “Huh?” I mean who goes to Ukraine, right? I was proven wrong when I had to go down to their embassy in Delhi to apply for visa in person. You wouldn’t believe the rush that had come to apply for visa. Dancers, students, businessmen galore. That was an eye-opener.

Anyhow, after spending almost an entire working day convincing them that I had no nefarious motives in visiting Kiev, I finally got the visa about a week back.

I reached Kiev on Monday afternoon and left yesterday morning. Since I spent most of my time in meetings, working and presenting, I had no time to explore the city, except on my way to client’s office from the hotel and back and on the way to the airport.

The glimpses I had of the city made me really wish that I had more time. It is a city rich in history and endowed with breathtaking natural beauty also. It is late autumn in the city currently and the temperature is generally below 10 degrees. The lovely gold, russet, green and orange of the falling leaves, crunching under feet reminded me of Keats’s ‘To Autumn’, though I suspect that not everyone in the country see this time as “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”.

The architecture clearly was similar to what you would expect in the Russian cities. The hotel I stayed in had a beautiful old world facade and the interiors were gilded opulence without going over the top.

Since I do not have more details to provide about the city, I leave you with some pictures that 
I managed to capture from my hotel balcony and cab windows.

Until next time, ciao.

These black and gold angels watch over the city

View from my balcony

View from my balcony

Lobby at Opera Hotel, Kiev