Archive for the ‘books’ category

Bed time reading : Installment #3

November 26, 2016


Just some reading of Dame Christie’s books. I picked some titles off the rack which looked unfamiliar and lo, they all turned out to be books I hadn’t read before.

Update (November 26th):

The big four : Surprisingly, I have never read this before. Poirot gets called to South America just when Hastings surprises him with an England visit. After a mysterious person dying in Poirot’s apartment, the duo realize it is the Mysterious number four of the Big Four at work. It’s all a bit too .. amateurish though, compared to the finesse of Agatha Christie’s other novels. And there’s a strong sense of Sherlock Holmes and Watson parody running through the story, possibly intentional. Anyway .. not something I would re-read.

Ordeal by innocence : What happens when an accused in a murder case gets his star witness clearing his alibi for him long after the case has been done and dusted and the defendant .. dead in fact ? Do the living innocents have to pay the fine for the dead to get their name cleared.

Arthur Calgary returns from his south pole(?) expedition to clear Jacko Argyle’s name in the murder of his adoptive mother, though Jacko is himself dead. But this plunges the rest of the family into an ordeal, where in the usual style of Christie, every one is under suspicion and suspicious of everyone else. Arthur Calgary and the police investigate a trail gone stale while the murderer awakens, desperate. A good plot, though perhaps a little gray and not that *fun*, maybe because we don’t have a Miss Marple or a Poirot or a Mrs Oliver to head the investigating team.

I think there’s a BBC adaptation of this with Richard Armitage playing one of the characters. Should watch it sometime!

Poem : Still to be read.



In bits and pieces, as you like it – Part 1

January 26, 2016

I’ve decided to tell you, my dear, all about this play by that man Shakespeare. A young man of name Orlando is naught but this play’s hero. He’s upset with his brother, for not being treated proper. This brother, an arrogant petty man called Oliver, who’s older and not in the least wiser, would rather see him done in by Charles, the wrestler.

Meanwhile, let’s speak of more royal fights. Fredrick the younger has usurped the rights of his majesty, the Duke and banished him for good to the Forest of Arden, where he now plays Robin Hood. The female sex, however, fare much better and Celia, the new duke’s daughter loves Rosalind, the old duke’s daughter like a sister and insists that they stick, like leeches, together.

Orlando wrestles with Charles and wins the fight. And for his effort, gets banished from sight of the duke, for his father was an enemy of his imperial and imperious Majesty. But before that, he and Rosalind have a chat about this and that and that. Orlando, the poor sheep, is, with love, dumbstruck. Let’s leave it at that for now shall we, for I’ve got to get back to work.

(to be continued)

Thirteen clocks by James Thurber

June 23, 2015

I never know,” the Golux said. “My mother was a witch, but rather mediocre in her way. When she tried to turn a thing to gold, it turned to clay, and when she changed her rivals into fish, all she ever got was mermaids.”

“His nights were spent in evil dreams, and his days were given to wicked schemes.”

James Thurber’s Thirteen clocks makes for such brilliant reading. I have read prose which has been stuffily squished into verse, but I have never before read poetry relaxedly reposing amongst lines, wide, roomy and free. And his concept of concretizing Time works beautifully.

Travelers and mariners would look up at the gloomy castle on the lonely hill and say, “Time lies frozen there. It’s always Then. It’s never Now.”The cold Duke was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried.

A lovely read indeed

June 16, 2015

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Sandy Welch is one of the best screen play writers there is to turn great books into greater movies. BBC’s North and South is one example. Emma (2009), also a BBC production, is yet another example.

Emma is not my most favourite Austen book, but it is also not my least favourite Austen book. So there is some attachment and some apprehension watching adaptations on screen. But Welch’s screenplay is spectacular. It softens Austen’s sharp words, rounds her caricatures into characters, shades them with complexities and yet stays true to the book.

Emma, while reading the book, may come across as an exasperating character. She is admittedly that, quite a few times. But the movie version brings out a vulnerability and a wistfulness, which is not exactly the spoilt poor little rich girl image I was expecting to see.

The most wonderful surprise was Mr Woodhouse, the perennial worrier, terrified about cake, draughts, chills, and everything else. He still gets his chance to forbid the children from eating cakes, and forlornly hoping that terrible things like marriages might never happen again, but you also see him tender and protective of his daughters, only to an extreme.

“Fear is something you will only truly know after you have a child of your own”

The class consciousness, the whole sub plot line about Harriet Smith not being worthy because of her possible illegitimate birth and her general ignorance and silliness gets turned on its head in a brilliant argument between Emma and Mr Knightley. Compare Austen’s words

“You are a very warm friend to Mr. Martin; but, as I said before, are unjust to Harriet. Harriet’s claims to marry well are not so contemptible as you represent them. She is not a clever girl, but she has better sense than you are aware of, and does not deserve to have her understanding spoken of so slightingly. Waiving that point, however, and supposing her to be, as you describe her, only pretty and good-natured, let me tell you, that in the degree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the world in general, for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of an hundred; and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of chusing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice. Her good-nature, too, is not so very slight a claim, comprehending, as it does, real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people. I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess.”

And what Sandy Welch makes her Emma retort in great anger to Mr Knightley who’s clearly at a loss for words.

Emma : “Well, then. Let us, as you say, live in the real world. Where men of course always reject a girl with a pretty face in favour of one with a well informed mind. 

Mr Knightley (spluttering) : “What ?!”

Emma : “Oh no no no ! I bow to your superior knowledge. You must know best ! Harriet, with her good looks and easy temperament will be right at the back of the queue with your sex when it comes to choosing a mate“

Austen’s Emma in this scene is trying to be playful. Whilst Welch’s Emma is clearly worked up and well, so much better for it. Isn’t it genius ?

And compare that again to Mr Knightley, more in sorrow than in anger rebuking Emma after her ridiculing of Miss Bates at the picnic spot. Welch leaves Austen’s words almost untouched

“Badly done, Emma. Badly done indeed !”

I could go on and on. It is a four part series and these are liberally sprinkled with brilliant moments. And the casting is almost perfect. Only Jonny Lee Miller is too handsome to be Austen’s Mr Knightley. But that seems to be a running fault in all of Welch’s leading men (Richard Armitage *cough* Thornton)

By the way, the screen caps above are of Jane Fairfax and Emma. One, dark haired, leaving home, all alone, bravely smiling. Another, blonde, hand held, looking on wonderingly at the world from the confines of her home. Two images. And a story told.

Link : And here is an interview with Sandy Welch on adapting Emma for the screen

May 30, 2015

A little more rambling (and by rambling, I really mean rambling) on “Life of Charlotte Bronte”

Biographies are not my favourite genre books by any stretch. I find the idea a little .. voyeuristic. (You might argue that that is exactly what it should be. And you’d be right) I shudder at the idea of someone years down the line digging up my correspondence and gravely pronouncing judgements about it, but then am soon relieved that I’ll probably never be a person of consequence worthy of this effort. That said, I’m loving Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte. An extremely gentle, yet insightful look at her life. And when I say gentle, I really mean gentle. Both to her subject and others.

“I intend carefully to abstain from introducing the names of any living people, respecting whom I may have to tell unpleasant truths, or to quote severe remarks from Miss Brontë’s letters; but it is necessary that the difficulties she had to encounter in her various phases of life, should be fairly and frankly made known, before the force “of what was resisted” can be at all understood.”

And the narrative is so wonderful, that I can see the sisters side by side on the hearth

“Emily’s countenance struck me as full of power; Charlotte’s of solicitude; Anne’s of tenderness.”

They are as wonderful as fictional characters, more real to me than any person who trod upon the earth.

“The first impression made on the visitor by the sisters of her school-friend was, that Emily was a tall, long-armed girl, more fully grown than her elder sister; extremely reserved in manner. I distinguish reserve from shyness, because I imagine shyness would please, if it knew how; whereas, reserve is indifferent whether it pleases or not.  Anne, like her eldest sister, was shy; Emily was reserved”

As to accuracy, and missing details (especially about Bronte’s affair), I’m on the whole relieved that they are indeed missing. They are more than made up by letting us glimpse her early poetry. This one I particularly love  and hence reproduce below.


Passing amid the deepest shade
Of the wood’s sombre heart,
Last night I saw a wounded deer
Laid lonely and apart.

Such light as pierced the crowded boughs
(Light scattered, scant and dim,)
Passed through the fern that formed his couch
And centred full on him.

Pain trembled in his weary limbs,
Pain filled his patient eye,
Pain-crushed amid the shadowy fern
His branchy crown did lie.

Where were his comrades? where his mate?
All from his death-bed gone!
And he, thus struck and desolate,
Suffered and bled alone.

Did he feel what a man might feel,
Friend-left, and sore distrest?
Did Pain’s keen dart, and Grief’s sharp sting
Strive in his mangled breast?

Did longing for affection lost
Barb every deadly dart;
Love unrepaid, and Faith betrayed,
Did these torment his heart?

No! leave to man his proper doom!
These are the pangs that rise
Around the bed of state and gloom,
Where Adam’s offspring dies!

May 27, 2015

Currently reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Life of Charlotte Bronte” and I’ve begun to remember why I loved rereading North and South so much. Her writing is …elegant, unfrivolous, observant and heartfelt. I have no doubt each adjective can be earned with some effort by an ordinary writer, but only remarkable ones can win all of them simultaneously.

Some snippets from the book (and mind you, I’m still in Chapter one) to illustrate what the above adjectives means to me

“From rarely requiring the assistance of others, he comes to doubt the power of bestowing it”

“A solitary life cherishes mere fancies until they become manias”

And this paragraph is just lovely.

“The woollen manufacture was introduced into this district in the days of Edward III. It is traditionally said that a colony of Flemings came over and settled in the West Riding to teach the inhabitants what to do with their wool. The mixture of agricultural with manufacturing labour that ensued and prevailed in the West Riding up to a very recent period, sounds pleasant enough at this distance of time, when the classical impression is left, and the details forgotten, or only brought to light by those who explore the few remote parts of England where the custom still lingers. The idea of the mistress and her maidens spinning at the great wheels while the master was abroad, ploughing his fields, or seeing after his flocks on the purple moors, is very poetical to look back upon; but when such life actually touches on our own days, and we can hear particulars from the lips of those now living, details of coarseness – of the uncouthness of the rustic mingled with the sharpness of the tradesman – of irregularity and fierce lawlessness – come out, that rather mar the vision of pastoral innocence and simplicity. Still, as it is the exceptional and exaggerated characteristics of any period that leave the most vivid memory behind them, it would be wrong, and in my opinion faithless, to conclude that such and such forms of society and modes of living were not best for the period when they prevailed, although the abuses they may have led into, and the gradual progress of the world, have made it well that such ways and manners should pass away for ever, and as preposterous to attempt to return to them, as it would be for a man to return to the clothes of his childhood.”

January 1, 2015

While re-reading a book, that magical remembrance of the ambience and place in which you read the book the first time.. The staircase in grandparents’ home, the basement of a hostel bar, a window facing table in a chinese restaurant on new years eve, the top of the water tank in the terrace, the glow of the night lamp and the sound of the raindrops on a quiet night..and many more. Little moments of joy still safely secured in the corners of my mind, unshaken despite the disturbances and turbulences of life otherwise