November 6, 2016

Book: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:46 pm

imageFlaubert is said to have modelled the heroine on one Delphine Delamare, but was unable to say so due to the social mores of the time. He said that “Madame Bovary is me” which convinced nobody. The infamy followed the men whereby the man whom Rodolphe portrayed emigrated to US and returned years later. As scandal still followed him, he committed suicide in France!


And the story was considered so raunchy for those times that there was a movement demanding that this book be forbidden in France. So what is in that book that caused all this hullaballoo?


Charles Bovary is a dull student from a fairly well to do family. His mother somehow makes him a physician, against the wishes of Charles himself, as he was a dull student and could not get in through merit only. On top of that, she gets him married to an unattractive, older but a very wealthy woman, whom Monsieur Bovary does not love. She becomes a shrew, disillusioned with him.


He goes to take care of the broken bones of a wealthy farmer Monsieur Rouault and falls in love with his daughter Emma. When his wife dies, he marries Emma. He is besotted with Emma but Emma gets bored easily. She wanted to be a nun and then backed out. She does not feel the romantic dreams with a country doctor. The highlight is when they are invited for dinner by Marquis d’Andervilliers. Emma is, of course, the Madame Bovary of the title.


She longs for the rich life and hates her husband, fires his most trusted housekeeper over a trivial error and behaves abominably to him who worships her every footstep. They move to another town to help her, against the husband’s wishes and against the interests of his practice. She pines for extravagance and resents fate for denying her the share that is “owed to her”.


The new town offers friendship with Leon, which Emma eagerly receives. When he leaves town to go to Paris, she is devastated but a playboy called Rudolphe gets interested in her. He is bored with his current mistress, an actress and wants to conquer Emma. Makes his play at the agricultural fair where he gets her alone. He plots and slowly convinces her that he is in love when he is only after another fling.


When you read the book, you are struck by how the age of the book shows in the story : Rudolphe “feasted his eyes on the bit of white stockings [that Emma wore] that showed like naked flesh between the black of the [riding habit] cloth and the boot”.


He seduces her and she becomes brazen in seeking him out in his own house in the nights. She almost got caught by Binet, who was out hunting ducks, when she returned from one such visit.


His object acquired, Rudolphe begins to lose his passion and ardour for her, which stings her. After her husband bungles a clubfoot operation necessitating another surgeon to come and amputate the leg of the unfortunate Hippolyte, her contempt of her husband and ardour for Rudolph overflow and she forces Rudolphe  to plan an escape with her – to run away. He is in it only for fun and runs away one day earlier, leaving her devastated.


She also is so free with her husband’s money as to nearly ruin him and steals other money from him to hide the fact. She also flaunts her affair to the extent she dares (before he runs away, of course) so much as to scandalize her mother in law and half the town she lives in.


After Randolphe leaves her,  she is crestfallen but goes back to Leon as an easy prey for his seduction and spends her husband’s money prodigiously again while she finds ways to meet Leon on a weekly basis. I can understand why the book may have scandalized society in the nineteenth century when it was published.


Finally, her wayward ways catch up with her and her debts mount, Leon grows tired of her and she tires of him as well but still is unable to stop.


The heroine of this story is supposed to be understood and pitied by us readers. It is very hard to sympathize with her when she has no concept of money, has an unrealistic ambition of living an aristocratic life, tramples over her husband who even gave up his mother in her support and then makes him bankrupt too, when the noose tightens around her neck (figuratively speaking), when all the loans come due and no one will help her. In desperation she takes a lot of arsenic and dies painfully.


It is pathetic to watch Charles devoted faithfully to her memory and still blind to her infidelities even when he is drowning in debt and even when he comes across one of Rudolphe’s letters to Emma. He alienates everyone including his mother in his stubborn devotion. There are side stories of Monsieur Homais and his journalistic crusades etc.


The scales fall from his eyes when he finally stumbles across all the love letters of her various lovers. He soon dies.


The book ends with a mock trial where the prosecuting and defence ‘attorneys’ present the case for and against – wait for it – not Emma but the book itself! Kind of cute. Overall, not a bad book, and rightly judged scandalous all those years ago for ‘preaching immorality’.


The only complaint about the last trial is that it is mostly a rehash of the story. I like the idea of attacking and defending the author for immorality but instead of arguments, all you get is extensive quotes and repetitions as well as a summary of the story again. That drags down the impact a lot. On top of that the self-praise on how well Flaubert has written the story jars a lot. Like reading the Taita series of Wilbur Smith or even the annoying Seventh Scroll where Wilbur Smith is praising himself as a historian.


The theme according to the epilog is “the education that is given to a woman which caused her misstep and corruption”. Really? Women should not be educated above their station in life? Or else they start a series of adulterous relationships?


I would say this deserves only a 5/10

–  – Krishna


February 1, 2015

Book: Candide by Voltaire

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:45 pm

imageThis is a classic. Many of us have heard of it, but not many have studied it. I decided to give it a go. The overarching impression I am left with is one of puzzlement. This is a satire and Voltaire definitely ridicules the notion of the Grand Scheme of Things and the idea that Everything Happens for the Best. You get it loud and clear when you read it but the story goes all over the place with gut wrenching changes that leave the story’s plot in tatters often, and you wonder whether it is intended.

A bit about Voltaire himself first – he is one of the most recognized names in literature. Francois-Marie Arouet was Voltaire’s real name and he adoped the nom de plume when he was arrested and jailed in France.

It is a comedy romance? Look at even the place names. Where Candide was brought up with a Baron, the city is called Thunder-ten-tronckh and the next down where he goes when driven out by the baron is Waldsberghoff-trarbk-dikdorff  .In fact the weirdness starts right there, and does not let up until the end.

It is not just the place names that are odd. Even the story is. Why was Candide  driven out? He dared fall in love with the baron’s daughter, the fair Miss Cunigonde and she reciprocated the feeling. Master Pangloss teaches what in the castle? Wait for it… he teaches metaphysico-theologico-cosmolonigology. Come on now!

Heavy sarcasm permeates the narration – heroes in one army destroying villages with mass killings and mass rape and the heroes belonging to the victim’s side doing the same thing to another innocent village belonging to the victor of the previous raid.

Candide  hears that his beloved and the Baron were killed when he meets Pangloss in a near skeletal state. Then a whole pile of things happen. Pangloss recovers, they go on a voyage for no good reason (I mean to do with the story), get shipwrecked…. Oh boy!

He meets Cunigonde when he least expects it and learns that she is not dead but is the object of desire by a Jew and a Merchant and kills both! He runs away with Cunigonde and her servant on horseback.

He is then separated from Cunigonde because a Governor desires her. Candide then meets her brother. And after shedding tears of joy seeing him, kills him! Wait, what?

It gets weirder. Runs away dressed as the priest (Cunigonde’s brother is a priest and a colonel at the same time!) He acquires a squire called Cacambo and then goes to Peru, which is supposed to be the El Dorado of ancient myth. It is bordered by ‘a river so swift that none could cross over’ on one side and ‘mountains which have perpendicular sides’ on the other so that it is in splendid isolation. (You wonder, if it is that impregnable, how did Candide himself, never mind his servant, manage to reach it? They themselves reached there through the river. Oh I see –  everything is now crystal clear!).

There the streets are all gold – not paved with it but full of it. Their sand is gold, their pebbles are gold nuggets and children play with it. No rich, no poor, no crime… Your practical side rises its pesky head again and you wonder  how they earn their income. Obviously gold is of no value right? (No explanation. This is not an economics text book).

Then if the gold are worthless (dirt and stones) and the gemstones are used as playthings, what are the houses constructed of? Not a clear explanation. But beds are made of hummingbird downs (what? how many millions of these have to be slaughtered to make one bed? )

They decide to return despite the king’s plea for them to stay but the king, of course, can make carriages that are capable of taking them out of the country despite the formidable obstacles mentioned. (Helicoptors? you wonder cynically). Candide  promptly loses almost all his wealth.

Voltaire is unconcernedly irreverent about all nations: the French for instance are monumentally stupid and violent and they laugh at everything, even when in a rage and are slitting somebody’s throat.

On with the story : Candide  meets Pococurante in an inn. Pococurante seems to think every famous author is bad… no, everything in the world is bad. But to learn that you have to go through every author in the world at that time, and learn why he or she is awful. It gets so boring after the first two.

Then comes narration of seven kings who have lost their kingdom but who congregate in the same inn, disguised, and each one tells a story. What is this? Adolescent’s literature?

Then there is this: None of the characters who die stay dead. They keep coming back, like a cartoon Wyle E. Coyote which gets crushed with his own Acme equipment. Even a person who was seen to be hanged comes back later, not to mention a person that Candide killed and his own sweetheart, who was supposed to have been raped and killed.

The beautiful become ugly, the ugly were once beautiful, the pauper becomes rich and then again a pauper. All of these are told in jumbled sentences that make your head spin.

Intended as a parody but is too juvenile and confusing to have the intended effect in these modern times.


  • – Krishna

October 31, 2014

Book: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

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

Looks like I will never understand satire by the great writers in English. The author himself describes this book as a “comic book about death” and of course it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1976. But to me, it reads like an artsy film-club-movie-experience in a book. Yawn.images

What is the story? Humbodt, a writer, is jealous of the success of his protege Charlie Citrine and tries to badmouth him constantly. He dies a mad man but strangely, leaves some money to Charlie in his will! Humboldt had a friendship with Adlai Stevenson as he claimed, and therefore should Adlai win the presidency, he will have influence in the government! US will then be utopia.

The story wanders a lot.

Charlie was married to the gorgeous Denise but was always fighting and so, after the divorce he married(?) Renata.

He befriends hoodlums and refuses to pay in cards, and for his pains, has his Mercedes smashed badly with a baseball bat. How boring! He goes to pay the hoodlum but gets humiliated, forced to watch him take a dump.

The book is all about Humbolt and how he lived. Nothing happens. More about Humboldt going slowly mad when Adlai lost to Ike Eisenhower.  He conspires to get a chair in Princeton but that falls through as well.

Kathleen leaves him, unable to take his paranoia, but he goes raving mad, attacking a young scholar who he suspects, without proof, is hiding Kathleen.

Cantabile now thinks he is the bosom buddy of Charlie and offers up pretty Polly to share.

Charlie’s  women: First love dies in a plane crash; Denise, the pretty and intellectual wife sues him for all he got; he meets Renata as a mutual friend of a friend in jury duty. He gets arrested due to his association with Cantabile and the stupidity of his friend Thaxter who takes everything he can monetarily from Citrine.

The descriptions are very good and Citrine’s musings are brilliant to read. It does not add to the story but many times but you go along for the ride, for once not caring what it has to do with the story. His musings are unconventional but interesting. Humbolt has left the outline of a plot as a ‘gift’ to Citrine during his brief lucid period before his death. When Charlie learns that the same story has also been given to Kathleen, he is amused. He next visits his businessman brother who is having an open heart surgery.

His musings can come off as ramblings, and they do annoy sometimes, and his belief in clairvoyance and other duff stuff also can irritate, coming in the middle of other interesting thoughts. This gets to be a bit too much as the book progresses.

In a nice irony, the hero Charlie is an author who had won two Pulitzer prizes!

It then  gets positively weird! Listen to this: when you sit and try to talk to dead people, you can! And the questions you ask are actually from them and the answers they give are actually from you. In spite of the ‘comedy’ quip from the author, this seems to be a serious passage.

Why have I not been harsher in this criticism? Am I impressed because the author is Saul Bellow? Not really. I give it a milder critique because his other musings are very interesting and intelligent. That still does not take away from the from the fact that some parts of the book are very weird and downright nonsensical.

Charlie comes across as a soft squeeze and a pushover but then that perhaps this is what was intended to be his character.

He loses all his money due to all his friends’ duplicities but a gangster stands by him! A mad caper written by him with Humboldt makes it big in the movie business and Cantabile helps him sue and recover money but he treats the only guy who helps him like shit.

The ending has a nice ring to it, but is abrupt.

In summary, parts of the book are interesting, even though they may have nothing to do with the main plot, but it is heavy lifting to read. Nonsensical, irritating, and sometimes downright absurd.

Let us say 4/10

  • – Krishna

September 7, 2014

Book: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:56 pm

imagesA classic novel review after a while. This is a romantic comedy and of course, the language is that of the old times (the book, after all, was published in 1749). This is considered by many to be the best book written by Henry Fielding and is definitely the most popular.


For all the passing of time, this book remains surprisingly readable, like for instance, The Great Expectations by Dickens. The language also does not jar much and is very much contemporary, unlike Gulliver’s Travels for example. Which is nice.


The story revolves around the eponymous protagonist, Tom Jones. He was found at the doorstep of a wealthy man called Mr Allworthy, who is  a model citizen, kind, helps others, very pious, and decides to take him in and raise him as his own son.


Allworthy’s sister is courted by a man called Mr Bilfil and they get Master Bilfil, who considers himself the rightful heir of Allworthy, and has a cause to resent Tom Jones.


Sophia Weston,  daughter of a neighbouring landlord, falls for Tom and Tom for her. But this is a story about a man with a lot of weaknesses, and Tom is always up to some mischief or the other. He gets Molly, daughter of Black George the gamekeeper of Allworthy, pregnant.
Mrs honour maid of Sophia, is loyal to Sophia and to no other, not even her father.


As we said, Tom and Sophia realize that they love each other.  He has a broken arm in an accident when this love blooms.


Molly has had affairs with another boy before and with Square, a priest, when Tom goes to see her!


The story gets a bit weird and completely contrived. For example, in more than one instance, people fall dead at the least pretense, exactly when they are creating trouble. (Very conveniently for some major characters)


Tom Jones again tries to have an affair with Molly almost got caught and fights with the parson and Master Bilfil. This is not normally the behaviour of a hero, even in a comedy, and so this makes it very interesting.


Sophia falls for Tom Jones and Sophia’s aunt thinks it is for Bilfil that she pines and arranges marriage. When Sophia rebels, her father gets mad.


The dialogs are easily understood but that does not mean that the sentiments are ordinary. They reflects the times and are quaint when read now. One example, where Sophia’s father says “Wealth is as necessary to a marriage as the opposite sexes”.



Some innocuous remarks can be seen out of context too. Take this example “Though he [Master Bilfill] was not the man who would eat every woman he met….”


The story wanders off. Tom is banished, his money stolen by Gamekeeper George and he is penniless.


Sophia plans elopement with Honor, the maid, who is herself not very trustworthy initially.


The author frequently spews venom on critics whom he seems to hold is low estimation… Don’t miss footnotes in Tom Jones because they are funny too. A ‘critic’ in footnotes is explained as ‘anyone who can ever read’.



Tom joins the army as a volunteer or tries to and gets into a tussle with a sentry. He saves a man who was trying to save his friend from gambling debts and then saves a damsel in distress, Mrs Fitzpatrick, who is a lose woman married to an army captain. She promptly tries to seduce him and with Tom Jones, finds it very easy to do so. Sophia unexpectedly comes in at the wrong time and flees Tom Jones in disgust.

A friend,  Nightingale, appears and there is more bizarre sentiments. For instance, Nightingale seduces Nancy, makes her pregnant and then says that he cannot marry her because she has no virtue, even if the cause for that is himself!


Tom convinces him to marry Nancy to eternal gratitude of her mother.


Mr Warren is all this time in hot pursuit and finally captures Sophia and locks her in a room. His sister rescues her.


When Tom writes a note to Mrs Fitzpatrick to marry her, this story becomes the comedy of errors that it sets out to be from the beginning. The whole letter was a ruse to cool the ardour that the woman feels for Tom but it reaches Sophia who is repulsed by his repeated infidelities. Everyone falls for Jones. He kills the husband of Mrs Fitzpatrick who dies and Jones ends up in prison.


The book is full of comments that reflect those times but sit odd with the reader today; Allworthy praises Sophia since she has “no pretenses of wisdom”, which ‘becomes a woman as much as the pretenses become an ape’. Also she is wonderful because, when asked “as a test” to adjudicate among differences between two of his friends, she modestly declined stating “how can you even assume that I am capable of solving the differences of opinion between two gentlemen!”. Wow!


Another oddity : Tom is in prison yet, people go in and out constantly to meet him as if he is staying in a restaurant!


Odd phrases abound too. Forget about the two families having “the most agreeable intercourse among them”. What about the father in law saying to Tom Jones “Give me thy fist…it is as honest a cock as any that can be found in the kingdom”?


A satisfying but unconvincing end. All Sophia’s reservations, determination to avoid Tom etc. melt away conveniently and there are a lot of hurried coincidences to bring the story to an abrupt but happy end.


A surprisingly good read with too many holes in the story.   6/10
– – Krishna

July 26, 2014

Book: The Jungle Books by Rudayard Kipling

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:57 am

imagesYou can imagine how many people have seen the movie Jungle Books by Disney and how many people of those would have read the original series by Rudayard Kipling. So, it is not surprising that the movie version is the one that people will remember.


And also, most people know that Rudayard Kipling was a poet and a serious writer, and that the story will not be funny like the movie version, aimed mainly at children and adults too. (And the songs in that movie! I digress.)


And knowing Disney has a reputation of twisting the fairy tales to suit its taste for happy endings, especially in the past when it made Jungle Books, I fully expected to read a completely different book when I took up this one to see what it is really like.


It is amazing how much Disney has not deviated from the book, while making it still fun and entertaining. You have Akela, the wolf pack. Mowgli (meaning ‘frog’ according to Rudayard) and Baloo the bear.


Overall, I would say that it is a narrative work, no deep meanings, no thought provoking ideas, but it keeps you engaged. Hindi words are used here a lot –  Sher for Tiger (with a honorary title of Khan), Baloo for bear, Bagheera for panther, Hathi for elephant and Dewanee for madness, Bandar Log for monkey people, all literally true.


On the other hand, Mowgli and Kaa are not borrowed from Hindi but seem to be invented


Talking of Kaa, he is very different in the book but close enough to be recognized.  The movie wisely leaves Sher Khan until the end (climax) whereas the book keeps him constantly intriguing against Mowgli.


Another interesting thing is that the book is episodic, which is like a collection of short stories about Mowgli and the Jungle. (Incidentally, the word ‘jungle’ itself originates from Hindi). The first story in the book is about how Mowgli is expelled from the wolf pack by the younger group seeking to overthrow Akela; the second is about Bandar Log kidnapping Mowgli – so you realize that the order in which the story is told in the movie is also different.


How Sher Khan dies in the book is interesting – I understand why it was not inserted into the movie! And the stories about seals (Sea Catch and his wife and the baby seal) is not included for the same reason in the movie. Riki Taki Tavi is interesting but a sidebar to the main story.   There is an elephant called Kala Nag (stands for Black Cobra if you go for the literal translation) but no Colonel Hathi. There is a story related to Little Toomai the elephant mahout, not anything to do with Mowgli.


Then there is a story about army animals (camels, mules, bulls) that is soooo boring and pointless.


What an imperialist attitude especially in the story about Mowgli’s return to the village and banishment! Only the white man can stop savages (native Indians) beating and killing each other; only a white man can arrest Jungle from taking over a village and destroying it. The hidden paternalism and condescension is fascinating. I know Rudayard loved India and spent most of his life there but his ideas and attitudes reflect the times he lived in (the book was written in 1894).
and are interesting and anachronistic to read today.


A story about a sannyasi (as Kipling spells it) who had a white man’s education and therefore was wise, who saves a village from destruction through mud slide. Purun Dass who becomes Purun Bhagat.


A very different proposition from the movie, you realize as you read on. It is a jumble of stories, all unrelated to each other, continuity being given only with the repeating characters and their past experience.


The biggest surprise is the colonial attitude that drips from each page. The English got the filthy natives to clean up Calcutta. And only they can save the natives who are needlessly slaughtered by other natives in the same village… And of course, only a white face will dare come hunting a crocodile.


The one cute thing is that everyone spouts poetry at the end of (almost) each story. Rather like a story turning to a musical at the end.


Kaa’s relationship with Mowgli is very different in the book(s). It is a mixed bag. There are stories which are only mildly interesting and some are plain boring and a pain to get through.


Disney I think got it right when they decided which parts to choose and which parts (Colonel Hathi) to invent.


This is one of those cases where the movie is far better than the book


The book gets a 4/10


–        – Krishna

October 19, 2013

Book: Dubliners by James Joyce

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:40 am

coverThis is the collection of short stories by James Joyce and is supposed to describe vignettes of Dublin life. The stories are of very limited interest to me, even the best of those being a drag and the worst were pointless and a waste of time to read.  Give this one a miss.

The first story is called The Sisters – An old man and a young boy are improbable friends. The old man seems to be dying. Cotter advises the family of the boy that perhaps the boy should not associate with old men and with books instead of playing, like other normal boys. The man sees the corpse and meets the sisters of the man. Is there a point to this story?

The next story is called An Encounter – Joe Dillon is a Wild West Pulp reader. Acts it out with Leo, his brother. Both are boys. Teacher discovers them reading half penny novels and is upset. Jon gets depressed, goes to next town and fantasizes about climbing a ship and going away forever. Makes a friend of an old man but when the old man starts talking weird, runs back with friend back to home!

Araby – A boy is in love with a brown girl but shy to talk to her. She speaks to him one day and he promises to get her something from the fair he goes to the next day

There are pointless stories like Evelyn, about a girl pining for a man who wants to leave town, After the Rush which is a much jumbled account of a boat ride and many things besides. Makes no sense.

Two Gallants – Friends. One boasts of a girl who is in love with him. His name is Carley. Lenehan, the other, laps it all up. Carley demonstrates by picking her up and taking her to a house that is deserted. He emerges much later and meets up with Lenehan

Boarding House – Mrs Mooney was freeloaded by hubby and throws him out. Tough as nails. She runs a boarding house. Her daughter has an affair with a boarder (Mr Doran) and is found out. Mrs Mooney orders him to come talk to her about his marrying the daughter now.

A Little Cloud – Little Chandler, a married journalist, meets Ignatius Gallagher in a pub. He is an old friend, free, full of adventures and promises and he envies Ignatius until he finds him drab and empty.

Counter Point – Farrington is an oppressed lazy employee. Once he defies his boss and stuns himself. Shirking work, runs to bar and is lionized by other employees for his defiant behaviour.

Others – a party where a man sings, carves turkey and ladies sing as well.

In all, they feel like what you would hear of men in your town, not even lives, but episodes of a day or a few hours. Most have no point, and the whole thing is a bore to read.


Let us say 2/10


–       – Krishna

November 27, 2012

Book: An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:22 pm

This book was written in 1925. The first surprise to me was how well the story is told. It is in modern English, as this author lived in the early 20th century, and the narrative flows beautifully and builds up tension and suspense slowly, ratcheting up consistently. (No, this is not a suspense novel). It is remarkably well written, and I was often reminded of the writing style and storytelling brilliance of Charles Dickens, especially his The Great Expectations, even though, to reiterate, there is no great suspense or twist in this book, as there is in the book by Dickens.

The story opens with a family, very poor, set in their ways and deep in their beliefs in God, proselytizing in the streets of Denver. They have moved from city to city, living barely above subsistence level. The father Asa Griffiths is a severe man, quoting scriptures constantly, and is rather incompetent in the practical sense. His wife Elvira Griffiths bought into this wholeheartedly and was a deeply religious woman who taught her family to live as Good People. Their eldest daughter Esta seems devoted to the way of life, but her younger brother Clyde, cannot stand it. He sees boys of his age having the comforts of life, good clothes, food that is varied and tasty, an education, which is denied to him for no good reason. Besides he cannot see his way out of this, and is pained. His two younger siblings, Julia and Frank are too small to understand or like or hate the vagabond lifestyle.

This story is about Clyde, who plans to run away when he can no longer bear this, especially when the family is planning to move to yet another city in what seems to him as a never ending stream of migrations and humiliating singing in the streets, barely a step ahead of panhandling, as it seems to him. But before he can act on it, his sister Esta, the seemingly well adjusted kid, runs away with a boy she met, and with the same speed comes back pregnant, abandoned by him. Since Asa will not allow her back, Clyde’s mom houses her in an apartment in another part of the town and secretly looks after her, struggling for money and borrowing from Clyde.
In the meanwhile, Clyde secures a job with a chemist and then moves up to get a job at the upmarket Green-Davidson hotel as a bellboy. He gets a group of friends, and saves and spends money on himself, buying himself nice clothes and shoes. That is not all he picks up. His new friends Ratterer, Higgelund and Arthur take him to a brothel and introduce him to the pleasures of the flesh. A virgin, all this is heady and new to Clyde.
When he meets Hortense, the cheap but pretty girl who has high ambition, Clyde falls head over heels in love with her but she keeps him dancing to her tune while she does not have any interest in him except for what he spends on her. She escalates her (wily) demands and finally asks him to buy a fur coat that costs several months of his salary. He pays partly for it, but still Hortense Briggs keeps stringing him along.
When a friend “borrows” a car from his employer (An expensive Buick) and as a big party they go to a far away place, they are late returning and in a hurry to get back to the hotel on time, they run over a child, killing the girl, and in panic trash the car. The driver and the girlfriend get arrested but all the others run away in panic to avoid jail. Clyde changes his name and starts fresh again in Chicago, doing menial jobs and then finally gets a job as a bellboy in a big hotel there – not as posh as Green-Davidson but good enough.

His mother is in shock and cannot believe that his boy would be involved in a scandal like that. However, when he writes back to her, she tells him of a rich uncle in Lycargus, who owns a Collar factory there and is doing well.
Accidentally, he meets Samuel Griffiths in the same hotel and introduces him. Samuel invites him over to Lycargus, promising him a job at his factory, more out of guilt that his brother Asa (Clyde’s dad) did not get a fair shake of family fortunes due to mental instability.
Clyde is hated on sight by Samuel’s son, Gilbert and his dislike intensifies when everyone says that Clyde looks just like him but ‘is better looking’. He shoves Clyde in a corner, in a menial job, washing collars since his father insisted that he be given a job.

When Samuel visits the factory, he feels that Clyde, being a Griffiths should not be seen washing collars but wants him transferred as a supervisor. This department is full of girls, and one girl in particular, Roberta Alden, catches Clyde’s eye. She falls for him too, but since the Griffiths have a strict rule against workplace romance, they meet on the sly and against her wishes, Clyde coldly forces her to have sex with him.

She gets pregnant and in the meanwhile, he finds that the rich society of Lycargus has opened its doors to him and what is more, one of the richest, Sondra Finchley, falls in love with him and wants to marry him! Riches and comfort at last! Only if he can escape from Roberta. He tries to get her pregnancy aborted, with her consent, but to no avail.
Finally, she says that the only way out for her is if he marries her, and then, after a decent interval and the child’s birth, she will let him go. But that would be the end of his dream with Sondra.
He sees a news item where a boat was drowned with a couple in a lake. They found the body of the girl but not that of the boy. This gives him an idea… Can he go through with this plan to get out of his predicament?
The story is well told, his slow transformation to riches and a slow moral degradation well told. His plans to execute murder and the last minute change of heart are also extremely well told. The subsequent turn of events and his clumsy efforts to get out of trouble are good but the third half of the book, which is a courtroom drama is brilliant, as well.
In the meanwhile, especially at the end, there are thought provoking discussions on the nature of faith, morality, true guilt and really informed viewpoints, especially for a book written in 1925. Taking into consideration the story, the narrative style and the issues discussed, this book could have been written today with minor changes (in language style) and will still be considered relevant.
The ending of the story is a bit surprising, at least to me but what is surely an epilog, though it is not named as such, has a pleasing symmetry with the beginning of the book.
In all, a very surprisingly well written book. As I said before,  with minor changes of language (for instance the “Gee”s and “anyhow”s sprinkled liberally and the word gay (which now has an acquired, different popular meaning) it could read like a book written today and you could read it as a modern story!

This book deserves a 8/10

— Krishna

June 19, 2012

Book: Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) by George Orwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:40 pm

You have heard of Tony Blair but have you heard of Eric Arthur Blair? No? Nor had I until about a month ago. I would have, like you probably would, said that I know nothing about the latter. But if someone told me that Eric Arthur Blair is the real name of George
Orwell, then suddenly you do know a lot about that man!

It is interesting to see that he was born in India, that he fought for the Republicans in Spain and was wounded in the war. It is also
interesting to note that he wrote his two most famous novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four after he went technically mentally unstable – in fact just before his death.

George Orwell was admitted briefly into a Sanatorium in 1938. He was discharged shortly thereafter “but never really recovered” according to most sources.

His Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four are both brilliant critiques of the communist or socialist regimes and tell the story of the
extremes to which this thinking can lead, if taken to their extreme logical conclusion. (To see a real world example of what an extremely idealistic implementation can do to people, read `Pol Pot: A History of a Nightmare‘ by Phillip Short reviewed earlier here.

This book is such a classic that many of the terminology has passed into common lore like NewSpeak, Big Brother, and ThoughtCrime, just to name a few things.

The story follows the life of Winston Smith. He is stuck in a “future” society in 1984, where Big Brother sees everything and there are telescreens in every house and every place, and every member of the family has been turned into potential spies who can rat on their own family members. The child bearing and rearing is a planned activity, and you are even taught how to think by eliminating all undesirable words from English and turning it into NewSpeak. For example, if there is really no word in the language for rebellion, how can you even think of it, let alone plan and execute it?

And all countries in the World are combined into three Mega States, called Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. These mega states are perpetually at war with each other, alliances changing by the day.

Even showing displeasure by face (a grimace or insufficient happiness at a news being telecast) can land you in prison or cost you your

All Ministries have been named according to NewSpeak Principles: MiniPlenty is the Ministry of Agriculture (where there is always shortage of food), MiniPeace is Ministry of War, IngSoc is the new version of English Socialism, MiniLove is the Ministry of Punishment and so on.

The narration is chilling. One can see why it is a classic. The language is exquisite and the story flows smoothly from scene to scene. The attention to detail is amazing and really transports you into the place and “time” to give you a real feel for the story.

In the midst of all these chaos, Winston manages to cheat a little by buying a diary from an unregulated area (a crime) and recording his thoughts on it (a bigger crime). When he realizes that there is an attractive girl called Julia who seems to think like him, and what is more, there are fellow employees (like, for instance, O’Brien) who dare to think that the existing system is wrong, he contacts them at a great risk to himself. He even manages to hire a hideaway apartment, away from the cameras and meets Julia there.

The first part of the book is about Hope, which builds on his discoveries and creates an atmosphere of resistance, giving hope that one can take on established order, however much it imposes controls on the society at large.

He learns the truth about the supposedly evil resistance leader called Goldstein. He discovers that there is a quiet hatred against
the suppressive regime.

The second part of the book is about the Disappointment, where his plans go awry, and he discovers what happens to the people who dare to resist the ideology in place. This part is brilliantly narrated as well. In fact, the despair, the hopelessness introduced by the regimen, the dirigisme in almost every walk of life, and the lack of even moving space in daily life, is all brought out by the colour and texture of description, rather than in so many words.

You know why it is a classic when you read it, and it carries you along effortlessly in its flow, a hallmark of truly great writing.

It sounds exaggerated in many places but that is the whole point of the story. It is a satire told in a very somber mood.

I would give it a 8/10

— 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 7, 2012

Book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:19 am

Frankenstein is such a classic story that everyone is aware of it. It is an idiom used in everyday language, with the same status as Xerox or Kleenex or Big Brother.

Most people have heard that though the name Frankenstein evokes the memory of the monster, it is the scientist who created it who is (Viktor) Frankenstein, not the monster. (Haven’t they?)

However, most people associate Frankenstein with the greenish monster that roams around town with a bolt sticking out of his head and with a few major conspicuous stitches on his forehead. This is the myth perpetrated by the comic  versions of the story and sustained, minus the bolt, in the historically inaccurate movie called Van Helsing. (Hercules from Disney probably shares the prize with this one for the most historically inaccurate movie ever made!) But I digress.

But there are several surprises in the book. The monster is not shown as having an elongated forehead but rather ape like features. It is described as being huge and very, very agile, able to move at astonishing speeds and also able to withstand really low temperatures with ease. It is described as having superhuman strength and, unexpectedly, having a grayish pallor like “a mummy”.

The author is itself interesting, having eloped with Percy Shelly when she was just sixteen. To top it all, he was at the time a married man, and as soon as his wife died several years later, they got married. She wrote this story as a kind of a competition, where everyone in her circle (all literary and poetic characters) were asked to write a horror story.

The story itself is narrated by Captain Robert Walton, in a series of letters to his sister. He rescues one Viktor Frankenstein, who originally resided in Geneva. When Viktor hears of Robert’s interest in science and its pursuit as a passion, he warns him of the pitfalls of following it blindly, and tells his own story (incomplete at that point), which involves creation of the now infamous monster.

The story has no “Igor” or any assistant to Frankenstein. So “Igor, I need some lightning!” to the hunchback Igor as shown in cartoons  is a mix up of several classic stories again.

As far as the story goes, it is interesting in its own right, and should be read with a clean mind, without the accumulated baggage of preconceived notions. . Viktor, who has two brothers, is brought up in a family which adopts Elizabeth Lorenza, who is considered ‘betrothed’ to him from childhood. His closest friend is Henry Clerval. Victor leaves Geneva to go to the University of Ingerstodt (spelling?) to learn science, and is so passionate about the origin of life that he single mindedly pursues ‘creating life’ from various parts of cadavers collected. He finally succeeds in creating a hideous thing, and manages to give life to it. Shocked and repulsed by what he has created, he runs out of the private room where he has created it, and wanders in regret. When he returns, he finds the monster gone and washes his hands off the whole sorry episode! His happiness doubles when his friend Clerval joins him in Ingetstodt.

Later, he gets a letter from his father stating that his kid brother, William, has been murdered and he rushes home to console his father (his mother is no more) and Elizabeth. Even before he reaches his village, he gets strong hints that the monster may have killed his broher. He cannot save an innocent servant girl from the blame, though, and she gets killed.

He goes in search of the monster and it catches up with him on top of the Alps, in an isolated spot. The monster narrates how he is tormented, how he learnt to speak, and how he accidentally killed the boy. The monster gives an ultimatum to  Frankenstein: “I am lonely and now I see that I cannot mix with your race; make me a female monster, just my kind, and I will leave you forever. If not, I will destroy everything you value.”

Trapped in a Faustian bargain, Frankenstein decides to fulfill the monster’s wish and starts building a female monster. However, in the last minute, he realizes that if the monster does not keep its word, now he will have two monsters roaming all over the country wreaking even more destruction and backs out of his commitment. This enrages the monster, who takes revenge by killing those near and dear to Viktor one by one. Viktor, overcome with anger, trails the monster to catch and kill it. The story ends with the consequences of these.

The story should be approached like the fairy tale it is. It has way too many holes to think of it as a coherent story. For example, the monster learns to speak by evesdropping on on the conversation of a family, yet, within months, he is able to talk in really poetic, flawless Engligh. He seems to have the ability of a fifty pound Gorilla, yet, made from human parts. Viktor repeatedly leaves his family and betrothed for years on end without as much as an explanation on where he goes and what he does, without inviting even the slightest reproach from anyone. (Even in the male dominated
Victorian times I wonder if this is possible)

Overlooking these flaws will help you enjoy the book. The epic battle between the maker and the creature is well told; the story from the monster’s point of view is moving. His struggle to get accepted and his repeated rejection by society is well told. His gradual conversion through bitterness to a menace to society, his revenge by killing Viktor’s family members and his final epic battle with Viktor himself is told well.

His decision to leave the world when Viktor is no more – and thus the raison de etre of his life is no more – is interesting.

The language is old style but once you get over that, the narration is fluid, and the story is satisfying in the end.

I would grant it a 7/10

— Krishna

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