bookspluslife

May 30, 2012

Book: Double Indemnity by James M Cain

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:11 am

This is the third of the trio of the most famous novels of this author.  We have already reviewed two other books of his:  The  Postman Always Rings Twice,  and Mildred Pierce.

This book has the look and feel of the Postman Always Rings Twice in that this also reads like a Dick Tracy novel come to life. However, this one is a bit more shallow than even that book and the story, though interesting, is uncomplicated and simple.

The story is about an insurance salesman called Walter Huff who discovers that an attractive blond called Phyllis Nordinger, who is a young vivacious woman married to an old rich and cantankerous Mr Nordinger, plans to clumsily kill her husband, after insuring his life for a big sum unknown to him.

Walter, who has faller hard for Phyllis, refines the plan to be almost undetectable and helps Phyllis in her effort to kill the husband, while creating for himself a cast iron alibi.

When he finds out that Phyllis is not an innocent little victim who had had too much abuse in her hubby’s hands, and when Walter also finds and falls in love with the stepsister of Phyllis, called Lola, things get complex. Walter finds that Nora is in love with Sachetti but he appears to be in cohorts with the mother Phyllis.

What is more simpler to commit one more murder, this time of Phyllis and frame Sachetti? Both obstacles to Walter’s love will be eliminated in one brilliant swoop and the way would be open for Walter to reunite with his love, Lola.

That’s when things go wrong…. Very wrong.

The book is an easy read and is told in Cain’s breezy style. The problem is that it is too much like the Postman book of Cain, and at the end, it does not stay in the mind.

For its entertainment value alone, you can give it a 4/10

— Krishna

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May 27, 2012

Book: Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:32 pm

The movie made a big splash when it was released a few years ago and so I was curious to see what the book is about. The book tells one part of the life of Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk, who arrive in a tiny French village from seemingly nowhere. She is so different from the villagers that they are uniformly suspicious of her. Knowing  hat she is not conservative, and that she does not go to Church regularly in that deeply religious place assures her of the everlasting opposition of Father Francis Reynaud.

When she opens an exquisite chocolate shop, the residents of the small village are torn between the desire to taste the chocolates and the instinct to stay away from the `evil influence’ in the village.

Anouk is a free spirit and has Pantoufle, an imaginary rabbit pet that she cares for all day long, and who accompanies her everywhere. Slowly, Anouk starts making friends in her school, almost against the will of the parents of the other children.

The village is populated by interesting characters: Guillarme, who cannot reconcile his deeply religious background and his respect for Father Reynaud with the priest’s words that he should stop worrying about his beloved dog who is dying `because dogs don’t have souls’.

There is also Paul-Marie Muscat, a prejudiced, bigot of a shopkeeper and his oppressed and abused wife Josephine Muscat, who is afraid even to smile or laugh. There is Armande Voizin, who is a free and rebellious spirit and hates her daughter Caro (Caroline Clairmont) and her controlling ways, and adores her grandson Luc Clairmont. The boy himself is under the thumb of an overbearing mother and has developed a stutter while speaking, always nervous and unsure of himself . There is Roux, who comes in with a band of gypsies and refuses to `simply go away’ because the townsfolk and Father Reynaud demand it. When he loses his boat and all his worldly possessions in an act of arson, he withdraws into himself and his group moves upriver a few miles to sit and sulk.

The story is told in an easy style and holds your interest. Reynaud’s talks to a priest, who is his mentor and guide but who is paralyzed  and cannot respond, add poignancy to the narrative. Armande’s seeming perception on the extraordinary powers of Vianne and suggestions of – but no demonstration of – Vianne’s supposed clairvoyant powers is interesting.

The story develops when more and more townspeople choose to speak out against bigotry and defy conventional straitjacket to join the liberal minded group.

Paul and Josephine’s struggles and her liberation are well told.

The story is about everyday life, and is a pleasant read, but there are no incidents that can leave a deep impression….

The chocolate shop descriptions including the types of chocolates and drinks are rich, like the chocolates themselves.

I would call it a 6/10

— Krishna

May 24, 2012

Book: Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:04 pm

This was my first Clancy and I must say that I was impressed. He writes spy novels but is so different from other spy writers like Alistair McLean. He writes more realistically. He talks about the boring reality of the spy line – nothing happening most of the time. He also mixes in the real spy legends. He talks about Kim Philby (See review of Kim Philby’s real story Treason in the Blood reviewed earlier) and includes tidbits of spy legends and that gives a real feel to the story.

In outlook though, Tom is a dyed in the wool American, Republican, right wing author and this comes through in every rumination of every character out there. His comparisons of UK, Rome and Russia (Soviet Union) with the beloved US are amusing, to say the least.

The story is set at the time of Ronald Reagan in US and Margaret Thatcher in UK. This story features the early days of one of Tom Clancy’s recurring hero, Jack Ryan.

Jack and his eye surgeon wife are posted in UK. Having left the marines and having made his fortune as an Investment Banker, he joins the CIA for the love of serving his country.

It also involves Ed Foley, who is the head of CIA in Moscow, his cover being a diplomatic attache.

Oleg Zaitzev is a secret code man in KGB and when he stumbles on a plot to kill the Pope, his sense of morality is offended and he decides to defect to the US and prevent the murder. Ed’s wife Patricia May, who is also an agent and who speaks fluent Russian too.

The story is about how they outwit the Soviet Empire and take Oleg and his entire family, including the “rabbit” his daughter Svetlana, out of USSR via Hungary and then to UK.

Patricia (Pat) has the brilliant idea of faking their death so that the KGB won’t even suspect that he has defected!

The story is breezily told with asides and many anecdotes in parallel.

In fact, after finishing the book if you think back, you can’t say that Ed or Jack even did anything remotely James Bond-like, and yet the story keeps your interest till the very end. The thoughts and banter alone will carry you along in an easy
storytelling experience, so you don’t notice the passage of pages until you are almost a quarter way into the book.

I think I will definitely read more Tom Clancy.

Weaving real characters (Andropov, the Pope) and real events (Pope John Paul being the victim of assassination) gives an interesting dimension to the story.

Don’t get me wrong; the story is all fluff, like Sydney Sheldon or McLean and is interestingly narrated. It also has a simplistic view of various countries – civilized US, semi-advanced UK, Italy and primitive Soviet Union… But it has a charm in the art of a spy-story telling.

I would award it a 6/10

— Krishna

May 23, 2012

Book: Dispatches By Michael Herr

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:51 pm

This is a brutally honest book. It has no story to speak of, and reads like a documentary in book form. And yet, at least in the first twenty pages, it is absolutely fascinating and really holds your interest.

If you want to know what it was like to be a part of the American forces in the crazy war in Vietnam, you cannot do better than read this book. It is the experiences of a reported who is with the forces (The reporters being `embedded’ with the troops, if you care for a modern terminology). The descriptions are raw, and shocking. Young men who go there not knowing what to expect and living through the sheer terror and madness of fighting in the alien country against an enemy they can neither isolate nor understand, who keeps coming in waves, stealthily at night, or ambushing by day, even after suffering very heavy casualties due to the superior firepower of the US. The terror that stops you from even sleeping at night properly and makes some people go to sleep out of sheer exhaustion, standing up, with their eyes open…

The descriptions are haunting – for instance, the war being so raw that young people age within hours. “What do you say when a nineteen year old Marine looks at you and says, `I am too old for this shit, man’ ?”.

The disbelief in some soldier’s voice when they learn that the reporters did not have to be there, like themselves but volunteered to be  there… The unreasonable anger against the press for reporting that the war may not be going well..

The story is also told in an unvarnished, stark manner. If you don’t have the stomach for really strong descriptions or very strong language full of expletives, you should give this book a miss. It is filled to the brim with both.

For instance, a soldier being fatally wounded by ground fire while sitting right in front of the reporters who are all traveling in an army helicopter is graphically told. The constant ride in the helicopters or ground vehicles with the rest of the vehicle loaded full with US soldiers’ corpses shocks you and stays with you for a while after you have finished reading the book.

A few reporters – Dana the Intrepid, Sean Flynn, Errol Flynn’s son who is trying to live down his reflected celebrity status, Davies, who `marries’ a wife and lives with the whole family of his wife freeloading off him in a rented house out ther – are all characters that stand out.

More gruesome tales abound; for instance a soldier who is building a brand new `gook‘ out of various body parts from various Viet Cong soldiers who died in the battle.

The attack on Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive are described. The official view of the war being about to be won imminently despite the reality on the ground is well told. Some near brushes with death are described well – the narrator walking down a lonely path only to find that he had somehow avoided twenty one landmines left right in the path by others that he was not aware of!

There is no story to tell in the conventional sense – it is a raw, brutal, honest description of the soldiers who hate the war they are in but can see no way out, of reporters crazy enough to volunteer for the work, of deep friendships and several acts of kindness done to each other, of brutality beyond description in the name of war –  of such things.

If you are upset about the current wars already, this will tell you why you are. If you are not, it will offer you a  perspective on why wars cause misery all aroung.
A good read, if you have the stomach for it.

I would give it a 7 / 10

— Krishna

Book: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:36 pm

Looking back, I seem to have taken a brief Classic Books detour.

It is one of those classic books that, to paraphrase an author I had read once `everyone knows about but no one has read’. I think everyone knows about Gulliver and some of his experiences. If you are like me, you would have known about the Lilliputans and the `Giant Land’. You may have even heard of the Yahoos, given the Internet Portal Yahoo – as a reference point for the name. (As an interesting aside, another little known Internet Trivia is that Yahoo, the web
portal itself is an acronym – or at least, it was, when founded. It stood for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle –Is this true or is this one of those Legends that are made up afterwards? )

But I always thought that Gulliver made two trips, one to the land of tiny people and one to the land of Giants. In fact, he makes several trips – four to be exact, and sees many countries. (On some trips, he visits multiple places).

The story is interesting in two respects. Its tone itself is different and old. Swift puts in capital letters at what seem to be random words in the middle of the sentence – and I am not talking about proper nouns here. (Wonder what Lynn Truss would have to say about that! See the review on her excellent Eats, Shoots and Leaves earlier in this blog.)

Second, many of the words have a completely different meaning. For example, apprehension means just the act of seeing, not what you think it is. Makes sense, if you think about it.

But if you get used to these peculiarities, you can sit down to read a classic story. Still, for all the fame, the book surprises you in many respects.

First of all, the author himself. Though born in Dublin in 1667, he soon moved to England and was neck deep in British politics. He was even instrumental in implementing some laws that ensured that Ireland, his motherland, was kept subjugated by England for a far longer period than it would otherwise have been. He was dyed in the blue Tory, and when Whigs won (under the legendary Robert Walpole) and prosecuted a lot of Tories for crimes including treason, that resulted in many of them being exiled or executed, he retired from politics and went back to Ireland to become the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral. He considered this to be a big demotion and was bitter ever after. As it happened, Whigs never gave up power for the rest of his life.

In personal life too, from his childhood, his mother seems to have lived apart from him in Britain while he grew up in Ireland. As a Catholic, he was caught in the bitter crossfire of those times between Catholics and Protestants. He was barely in control as a child and was so rebellious in college that he was given his degree only `under special grace’! He alienated most people around him throughout his life and seems to have been something of a misfit in society. Towards the end of his life he became insane and was declared unfit to lead an independent life, and spent the last four years under the care of another appointed person.

Back to the story. First, some general comments on the author’s style.

The bitterness shows through in his work. Even for a satire, some parts are dark and vicious, and he seems to hate almost all of the professions. Lawyers, doctors, politicians and even royalty are in turn subject to vitriolic attack in the name of satire. (No wonder he had very few friends!)

Another thing that surprised me was how fond Swift is of scatological talk. Consider the number of events: In Lilliput, Gulliver puts out a fire by peeing on it – being a giant in that land, he could pee enough to put out a raging conflagration. In another trip, he meets a `scientist’ who wants to remove all illnesses by pumping air through the bellows into the anus of a person and `draw out the ill vapours with the wind being pumped in’. And if by now you have not had enough, you find another person is researching human excrement to infer the characteristics of the person who passed them.,

The story itself is about Gulliver and his travels. In summary, it is a study of exaggerated proportions. In Lilliput everyone is very small. In Brobdingnag (his second journey) everyone is a giant. In Laputa (his third journey, where he visits many places) everyone is very clever but lost in everyday tasks and are lost completely when it comes to trivial acts of everyday chores. In Balnibarbi, everyone he meets is eccentric (OK, eccentric scientist). In Glubbdubdrib, people can bring back dead people to answer questions. Anyone including historical figures like Socrates, Plato, Julius Caesar, you name it)
In his last trip, horses (Houynhnms) are the sentient and intelligent beings whereas humans (Yahoos) are essentially animals with no intellect…

You get the idea. All worlds have one set of characteristics exaggerated or reversed, and the author imagines what life would be like, if that were the case. In each case, Gulliver has a set of adventures to keep the story moving. The peoples’ way of life, culture, practices are all described in great detail.

In all, an interesting experience. You would need to consult the footnotes often to understand the different usage of words (like apprehend, mentioned above). But a fairly interesting read, nevertheless.

Let us say, a 5/10

— Krishna

May 21, 2012

Book: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:35 pm

This is a classic and so you would expect it to be deep and poignant, wouldn’t you?  Instead, it is the story of knights and tournaments and romance, lightweight in nature and therefore an easy read too.

The story is told in the backdrop of the Norman conquest of Saxons, where the Saxons are sullen and resentful, and the Normans treat the Saxons as boorish and uncultured. The Saxon language is despised even by the ‘elite and rich’ Saxons themselves, who, like the Normans prefer the speak the preferred language of the land. (Yes, England of today.) And the language preferred? French!

It is much later that the Saxon language mixed with the Norman French and evolved as the English language that we use today.(So. in effect, English is the daughter language of Franch)

The story involves Cedric the Saxon, who is bringing up the beautiful Lady Rowena, a relative’s daughter, as her own child. Cedric is proudly Saxon and refuses to speak French or dress like the Normans. He is a chiefton and has English royal blood in him. He refuses to recognize Richard the Lionheart or his appointee Prince John of Anjou as the legitimate rulers of his beloved England, they being Normans. He dreams of the day where Athelstane, a lazy, lethargic and unambitious Saxon can reclaim the throne of England and restore the Saxon glory of the days past – an impossible dream given the circumstances. He is so upset with his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe (or Ivanhoe for short) for joining Richard the Lion Hearted in Palestine that he disinherits him.

He wants Lady Rowena to marry Athelstane to pursue his dream but she is in love with Ivanhoe.

The story begins with the return of Ivanhoe in disguise. Prince John is planning to overthrow Richard and take the crown for himself, in his brother’s absence. Brian de Bois Guilbert, a Templar who is fond of wine and women, and Prior Aymer of Jorvoulx, another priest equally debauched, stay in Cedric’s palace on their way to participate in a tournament organized by Prince John. With them is a Palmist and Isaac, a Jew. It is sadly fascinating to see how much racial slurs were heaped on Jews in that era too; they were openly ridiculed and treated worse than dogs. Palmist rescues Isaac, who realizes that he is really a knight in disguise (yes, Ivanhoe) and helps him get a horse and weaponry including armour and Ivanhoe wins the tournament and crowns Lady Rowena as the Queen of Love in the tourney. But he wins with the crucial help of a mysterious Black Knight.

But, being injured severely, Ivanhoe faints and is rescued by Isaac’s daughter, the beautiful Rebecca, who is in love with Ivanhoe. Theyall are captured, along with Cedric, Rowena and Athelstane, by the evil  De-Boeuf, who plans to marry Rowena forcefully. Bois de Guilbert though a minister, falls for Rowena and wants to have her as his consort, and she refuses.

In the meanwhile, the Black Knight discovers that the Holy Clerk of Clockmanhurst is not the pious Friar that he should be, but is not above shooting King’s protected deer for Venison or stocking his cellar with the best wines the country has to offer. The endearing Clerk is a friend of a band of outlaws, who are not above kidnapping and ransom and is led by an incredible archer called Locksley.

They go to rescue the captured prisoners.and are helped by the help from inside of a Saxon princess mistreated for years by the Baron.

Bois De Guilbert kidnaps Rebecca and carries her off to lodge her illegally into the head quarters of the Templars itself, against the Templar’s rules. When Beaumanoir, the head hears of it, he concludes that it is Rebecca, with evil magic powers who has bewitched Guilbert and sentences her to death. She asks for a Knight to defend her and awaits patiently, but no one comes forward for a while. Finally Ivanhoe, though weak and wounded and in no condition to do more than walk, agrees to fight the best known Knight of Templars, Bois de Guilbert. All seems lost…

The story is interesting and is narrated clearly and in a straightforward manner. If you get used to even robbers in the forest talking like ‘Hark thee knave, thou knowest the peril that faces thee” (or if you have read Shakespeare lately where everyone talks like that) then you can sit back and enjoy the story. It is very simplistic and it is not hard to see through disguises – enough clues and very simple devices to hide them. In addition, it is not difficult to guess who Locksley and Clerk of Clockmanhurst are really are – though I confess I did not get it till it was ‘revealed’ later!

Ivanhoe, though the hero of the story, does precious little and spends most of his time in a sickbed, wounded grievously.

The story starts and ends with a tournament which has a nice symmetry to it.

An interesting read,  and a light classic.

I would say it deserves a 6/10

— Krishna

May 18, 2012

Book: The Colour by Rose Tremain

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:36 am

This is the story of Joseph Roderick Blackstone and his wife Herriet Blackstone. Joseph flees his life in England for a new beginning in New Zealand. The time is late 18th century and New Zealand is a new world being settled by immigrants. Joseph just wants to buy some land, and set up a farm but there are a lot more people who are migrating to New Zealand in search of the Gold that is there, and the whole place is caught up in the frenzy of the rush.

Herriet, on her part was living the life of a governess, looking after children, and is tired of the staid old life where nothing happens and yearns for adventure, a horseride on wide open spaces, and living the pioneer life. In this mood, she meets and marries Joseph.

Joseph’s mother Lillian is a reluctant accompaniment to this journey. Her husband was an animal estimator and was struggling for respectability in a middle class existence, when he was untimely killed by ostritches, a weird way to die in England! She comes to New Zealand, stays with Joseph and Herriet in the makeshift house in a plot that Joseph bought, hating every moment of it. She patiently glues together a porcelein vase that broke in the journey. A metaphor? You make your own inferences.

Half way through the book, we realize that Joseph is also running away from his personal demons related to Rebecca Millward, his ex flame. (B y the way, Rebecca Millward is the name bestowed by a real woman who won the auction for her name to be used for a charity event, which Rose Tremain, the author, sponsored!)

In the next town are Toby Orchard and his wife Dorothy Orchard (“Doro” to Toby) who are rich but want to get away from England. Lilian admires and envies their pucca stone house. Their child, Edwin, was looked after by Pare, a Maori woman, who abandoned him when he was a few months old in the cold because she feared evil spirits – it turned out to be a wild wind, and overturned the crib and threw Edwin who was flung to the ground, and was rescued only just in time by his horrified mother, Dorothy. Pare was fired, but returned in secret to talk to Edwin and tell him stories because the spirit of the world came to her in the form of a log and commanded her to go back, warning her that she will die if she did not.

When Pare disappears suddenly from her life, Edwin falls very sick, and confides only in Herriet, who visits them often.

In the meanwhile, Joseph gets the gold itch and leaves his family to go up the mountains to seek his fortune with the rest of the crews,  with ultimately disastrous consequences for the whole family.

The story is well told, and keeps your interest. Descriptions of the gold fever, the rush and the consequent boom towns, the miserable existence of the diggers, the extreme danger they subject themselves to in the hope of striking it rich, the temporary and sinister alliances and relationships they form – all of these form good background to the story.

So is the story of Pao Yi, the inscrutable Chinese vegetable seller, whose wife and kids await in China and who cannot go home without the riches he promised he would bring them and thus `lose face’ in front of relatives and family. His story forms interesting backdrop and provides yet another strand to this complex tale.

The book is reasonably well written, and the story is told in a straightforward style, without stylistic nuances. It still keeps your interest due to the intricate plot and the evocation of the gold rush, Maori and Chinese outlook and the complex interplay among the characters.

It starts of very slowly, at first, and then takes off, so if you are patient through the first few pages, you will be rewarded with a good read.

It is a neat ending with Joseph going back to England to face his past and confront the Millward family, only to realize that it is futile, and Herriet resolving to remain in New Zealand, her new home.

I think it deserves a 7/10

— Krishna

May 16, 2012

Movie: The Avengers (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:47 pm

The comic book genre comes alive in Hollywood and has proved a safe bet for success for Hollywood. With the improvement in digital technology, the world of superheroes can be brought alive like never before. This has caused renewed interest in the superhero stories all over again, this time in life like animations.

In the meanwhile the retelling has gotten significantly cleverer too. After recasting Batman with a number of actors a number of times, Christopher Nolan set out to retell the story from a different and unique angle in his recent series. Batman begins and the incredible Dark Knight.

Here, they bring all the superheroes of the Hollywood movies together to form the group called Avengers,  to take on the villain together. The villain, to get them to come together, had to be a super super villain and who else can fit the bill than the son of Odin  himself, the mischievous Loki?

The movie is very entertaining and the story is intelligently told. It is interesting that the actors who played the superheroes in the hit series before also play the same superheroes in this movie as well, with one exception.

We have Robert Downey Jr.  playing Iron Man again. Chris Evans reprises his role as Captain America (“with a small change to the suit” as the movie explains it). We have Scarlet Johansen playing the Black Widow (yes, as in the spider). Chris Hemsworth comes again as Thor. And the super villain Loki is also played by the same actor, Tom Hiddleston, as in Thor.

The only exception seems to be the Incredible Hulk, as Ed Norton has been replaced by Mark Ruffalo. (The rumor mill is abuzz with insinuations that Ed wanted more money than they were prepared to give).

The movie has its lovely moments. Loki outwits people with his multiple images and mischief. He is outwitted by a dying Agent Phil Coulson  who lures him into an argument and in mid sentence, blows him off – does not kill him.  Think particularly of the scene where Loki imperiously tells the Hulk that he will not be manhandled by a monster, only to be whacked around like a rag doll before he can finish the sentence.  Another interesting piece is the ego of superheroes, where they fight another first before banding together to fight with the “real” enemy. It appears that the Hulk with Black Widow seem to do more damage to the ship than Loki’s evil band can.

The Iron Man is given all the great lines and steals the whole show almost, right to the end.

The story is not much, and Loki has to open a portal and gets a whole alien race into the world so that all of the Avengers have to band together to fight them.

One problem is the mixing of the multiple genres. For God’s sake, Thor is a demi god not a superhero. And what kind of superhero is the Black Widow? And how does Hawkeye a superhero?

And in mythology, Loki is mischievous and maybe a bit irresponsible but never blatantly evil. He is after world domination? That is a bit unbelievable.

As a pure entertainer, this movie is definitely good. But don’t look for any great logic or form.

I would say a 5/10

 

== Krishna

May 14, 2012

Book: The Double Helix by James D Watson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:30 pm

The full title, to give it its due, is “The Double Helix: Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA”.

It is an unusual science story. James tries to tell almost in a chatty way, as if you are sitting in his living room sipping a cup of coffee with him, the story of the times and personalities in the race to discover the structure of DNA. Partly it works but it reveals the author in a poor light at the same time, in my opinion. Why? Read on.

The personalities are definitely interesting. Francis Crick, who was a co-author of Watson and shared the Nobel Prize with him, comes across as a loud, opinionated, man with a booming voice, who made people dive for cover sometimes when he came their way. He is also recognized as a genius.

Watson’s own journey was in a different direction, until he came to Maurice Wilkins of King’s College, where he was into X-Ray Crystallography as a means of decyphering the structure of the DNA. Rosalind Frankin, the bright young genius of X-Ray crystallography, invokes an immediate dislike in Watson and his comments like, `if she only paid a bit of attention to make up, she may have more success in getting men’ sound a bit tasteless. Though in the last few pages, almost as an afterthought, he tries to make amends, the residual distaste in the mouth lingers for the readers. In this light, the later racial comment that James made which cost him the job he had held for 30 odd years is not so surprising.

That aside, Watson’s own story is interesting enough. He goes to Herman Kalcker in Copenhagen to learn bio chemistry but slacks off and does unauthorized DNA research on the side. Kalcker does not pay much attention due to a personal marital issue. He is in the middle of what seems to be a messy divorce.

When Linus Pauling, who is also in the race claims to have almost solved the structure of DNA, and also is building models to get to it, Watson and others almost give up, disheartened. When they learn that the proof did not fully hold up to verification, they dare to dream again of beating Linus to it.

This is when Watson moves to the Cambridge lab and meets Francis Crick, starting an association that was to see them through the discovery of the structure eventually.

Other colourful characters are Watson’s pretty sister and his resulting access to Maurice to get some important  information; the house where a lot of pretty French girls were eating and the young scientists’ desperation to get invited to lunches and parties; the idea that DNA was a triple helix in the beginning; the effort to hide the information from rivals (like Linus Pauling) even when almost directly asked;

It does not have complex technical explanations – OK, just three pages worth in the whole book, but reads like an anecdotal story and that way it is interesting. The irreverent tone and the author’s views on things is supposed to be a frank discussion of how Watson felt at that time when he was young but ends up bringing out his own character in a fairly unfavourable light.

But for all that, I think in projecting the research atmosphere of the time and bringing to light the rat race for fame and fortune, it does a decent job.

I would say a 5/10

— Krishna

May 11, 2012

Book: In the Forest by Edna O’Brien

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:59 am

This is an interesting book. It is a story about Michen O’Kane, who lost his mother and grew up in a series of orphanages and correction facilities. The more he was punished, the more he felt that everyone was against him and the wilder he became. Finally he was put away for many years and came home (to Ireland) to a part of the woods known as the Cloosh Woods. He had always felt at home in the forest, which was his refuge whenever he felt as a boy that he cannot take what life dealt him.

For the first time, he falls in love, when he meets Eily, who with her three (I think) year old son Madge, who have come to occupy his old house, which is now vacant. He is in love for the first time and Eily has to love him, right? When a stranger stays in Eily’s house for a whole night, his jealousy is aroused and he decides to ‘escort’ them, at gun point to his safe hideout in the forest. When things do go horribly wrong, he goes in search of a priest, and the intrepid young priest (Father John) realizes that he has been given a major goal in life by God in giving solace to the tortured soul.

The story starts slow and reminded me of a poor version of Roddy Doyle. But it really takes off at the middle of the book, and you are really shocked as you read on by the gruesomeness of the deeds of the person whom you thought of as delinquent but no more violent than that. What is heartrending is the fact that Eily tries to put on a brave face and talk to Michen as if it is a normal stroll, her attempts to save the child when she realizes that she is in grave peril, and her request to Michen to treat the child well.

The priest’s demeanour throughout is dignified and thus chilling. The story stops just at the right moment and switches to the reaction of the townspeople, the initial apathy of the authorities and the determination of the people to mount a search party themselves to find the mother, child and the priest who have successively disappeared.

The story is inspired by the real life story of Imelda Rilney and her son Liam, who went missing and  Father Jow Walshe, a curate also disappeared a few days later. Brendan O’Donnell was the local youth who was suspected.

It is an interesting read. I would give it a 6/10 because it takes a while to pick up speed.

— Krishna

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