Today let us talk about a book that I have been raving about to everyone I know and their mother in the past few days. And it is a re-read too, which makes it a rarer thing, because most of my reread attempts end up badly for me. I would avoid rereading a loved book if I can help it for the same reason. And we are talking about The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
The Bell Jar is a semi autobiographical account of the author and her struggle with depression and suicide. Set in New York City’s 1950s before the big sexual revolution and the birth control pills, Esther works at a glamorous newspaper that takes her to the happening parties and galas. But she is lost between her worlds while her mind is on the execution of the Rosenbergs and ‘being burned alive’.
When she learns that she failed to receive the scholarship that she had been planning for all along, she falls into a bout of depression. The Bell Jar talks about her perspective as a college educated woman in a sexist world and later her struggle with her existential despair.
Between her stays in different mental asylums and the consequent electro-shock therapies, she spends her time writing a novel and planning her suicide. Can this poignant and bleak tale have a not-so-sad ending? You might be surprised if you read The Bell Jar!
Book review of The Bell Jar
I should start with saying ‘yes this book is depressing’ and you have to be prepared for that before you pick the book. In spite of having read it earlier, I was not ready for it when it hit me. It is not a long book but sure needed a bit of more of time than normally something of this size would have.
Esther’s disinterested narration felt so close to home that I had to stop more than once. She does not talk about her feelings at all but convincingly transfers her emotions to the reader.
The Bell Jar is much more than the foreshadowing of the author’s ill fate, it is a social commentary. At some point, her insanity made more sense to me than the current socio-political scenario.
Despite that fifty plus years that have passed since the book first came out, we still are chastising women for talking about their sexuality, and stigmatized about mental health issues. The conundrum of having to choose between career and having a family is somehow still a huge issue for woman of all ages. May be we have not moved ahead at all.
Things that worked for me
I loved the poetical narration that changed pace so often, yet kept me hooked to it.
Though the author does not introduce any character or even describe them, by the end of the book I felt like I knew each of them personally and I was trying to match them up with my real life counterparts.
If you have been afflicted by suicidal thoughts or depression, or just the patriarchal world, you will totally relate to The Bell Jar.
The book is full of quotes that I loved and kept highlighting until the end.
Things that may not work for you
Being a semi-autobiography, it unsurprisingly is not plot oriented. So if you are looking for a fast paced story you might be disappointed.
The Bell Jar deals with suicidal attempts, self harm, sexual abuse, depression and ill treatment of mental health patients. If these are your triggers, you SHOULD avoid this one.
I loved this book in spite of the melancholic emptiness it left me after I finished reading it. Though I liked The bell jar when I read it the first time, I ended loving it more, understanding it better, and relating to the author deeper during my second visit.
Well, if that is not the mark of a great book I don’t know what is. Just read it.
Though Fahrenheit 451 has been on my TBR list for a while and it took a push from both the Banned book club and Classics N Christie book club to make me pick it up in March. And guess what? Like the other books the club has picked so far, it was great and I have no idea why I was hesitating to pick it up at all. Let us get with it shall we?
Fahrenheit 451 is set in dystopian world where books are banned and if found in person or house firemen were set upon to burn them. This is just strategy by the government to control the minds of the masses. The people too have lost interest in reading and television screens have taken their lives.
The protoganist Montag is a fireman who takes his job seriously and follows the rules to the T without any remorse until he meets his young neighbour Clarisse. Clarisse questions everything in life and doesn’t hide her enthusiasm from Montag. Her suspicious disappearance sparks something in Montag and he starts reading bits of books that he had stolen whilst on his job.
The little knowledge he gains from the books changes not only his idea of life and to know how it does read Fahrenheit 451 right now!
Book review of Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 talks about censorship but it was more about the technological growth and how people can get dependent on them. It is also about political autocracy and the controlling the masses. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which the paper burns but it is also about what makes the human mind tick and engaged. Reading does it. Period.
The first thing that happened when I finished the book was talk to everyone else who has read the book about its relevancy even today. The book is full of metaphor and I can’t believe how foresighted the author was, given the book was written in the early 1950s.
Of course the book was banned, and I would not be surprised if it were banned today had it been released now. I cannot emphasis on how powerful the book is, especially for the current global political scenario.
Things that worked for me
The book is full of metaphors and you can’t stop reading if you started matching it with real world.
The story and the plot are simple and direct, which helps it becoming the powerful book he is.
The book is filled with quotes and if you hoard quotes, you are in for a treat.
Fahrenheit 451 is still (or more) relevant to the current scenario.
Things that didn’t work for me
It was really hard to get into initially, like most other classics.
Fahrenheit 451 is for all the bookworms out there. If you are look for a book, any book, PICK THIS. If you want to read just one book in a year Fahrenheit 451 is the one for you. It will change your world and thoughts about books and reading.
Do you believe when people say that a book finds you at the right time? Well that has happened to me again. Well I finally go the courage to pick up The Picture of Dorian Gray and it did have its effect on me. Shall we get on with it?
I know I made tall orders for the year and I vowed to read more classics, loosely following the Penguin Classic Challenge and the Children’s Classic challenge. And it is February and am trying to keep up my promise by reading The Picture of Dorian Gray for January. I might have broken the suspense on how it was already, haven’t I?
Basil Hayward, an artist, is smitten by his muse Dorian Gray, who is young, innocent and beautiful and he introduces him to his best friend and worldly Lord Henry Wotton, somewhat reluctantly. Lord Henry’s worldly, hedonistic approach to life fascinates young Dorian and strikes a Faustian deal that he would stay young forever, instead his picture would.
With some help from Lord Henry’s ideology Dorian goes on to being his reckless, vain and sadistic self with his eternal youth while the picture pays the price for all of them. You should definitely read The Picture of Dorian Gray to know what happened next in this crazy Victorian story.
Book review of The Picture of Dorian Gray
I LOVED this one and I cannot recommend it enough to people who love to read lyrical, smooth prose and/or want to have deep philosophical discussion about men and their psychology. The book is full of interesting characters who are so larger than life, especially Lord Henry. I loved every sentence uttered by Lord Henry and I kept highlighting the quotes like crazy.
There were times when it became a bit slow, especially when talking about the materialistic obsessions of Dorian. But it gains its pace soon enough.
There are several layers and themes discussed like morality, selfishness, identity, greed, mortality and of course hedonism. And The Picture of Dorian Gray does come with a moral that materialistic life is not all and our sins do come back to haunt us.
I went on a hunt to find all the vague innuendos for homosexuality and boy, I was not disappointed at all. I can understand how scandalous this book must have been for Oscar Wilde was incarcerated for writing this one.
Things that worked for me
Wilde’s witty and funny writing kept me hooked throughout.
I loved Lord Henry’s hedonistic philosophy to life.
Things that didn’t work for me
There were a few places when the writing became a bit dragging.
If you are looking for something more substantial than your regular run of the mill love story, with a lot of allegorical and witty writing The Picture of Dorian Gray should be your pick. If this is what all (or most.. or a few) classics like, keep them coming and I might as well make this – a year of classic.
There is something with South East Asian Literature that I can’t put my finger to, they always leave me confused whether I like them or not. I picked Kitchen by Yoshimoto worrying if I will get it, especially seeing that it has several raving reviews on Goodreads.
I didn’t want to read the blurb and jumped directly into the book. Read on to know how that went.
Kitchen begins with Mikage Sakurai grieving the death of her grandmother, in their kitchen. Yuichi and his mother Eriko takes her in as she has no other family left. Mikage throws herself into cooking and food, which becomes part of her heart and dreams.
Eriko is a transvestite, who runs a gay night club and lives with her son Yuichi who studies at Uni. He was a man for a long time until his wife died and then he changes ‘her face and her everything’ with the help of operations. The busy mother – son gets closer to Miakge through her home cooked dinners, until Mikage moves away to pursue her culinary dreams.
A few months later Eriko is murdered by a smitten man. Tides change and it is now Yuichi that has to face the loss and grief. How Mikage helps Yuichi to cope with the loss and how her passion for food keeps the friends sane forms the rest of the story in Kitchen.
Kitchen is followed by a shorter tale named Moonlight Shadow in which the theme of grief and loss of beloved ones continue. Satsuki lost her boy friend Hitsohi to an unforeseen road accident. She picks up running to push her sorrows away. Hitoshi’s brother who lost his girlfriend in the same accident dresses in her favorite costume as a cope up mechanism.
Satsuki meets Urara who tells her a way that can help her find a closure. Read the story to know if they find what they seek.
My initial thoughts
Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is full of eccentric characters and I can’t think of a better word than weird right now to describe the plot.
The leads in both the tales attempt to seek hope and overcoming of their destitution after the death. But how they attain that is way different.
Though both the stories are very minimal and to the point, I loved them like a fresh breath of air. Some stories make us long for more but Kitchen in all its incompleteness felt complete. I don’t want to know what Satsuki or Yuichi, who stayed in my mind long after I finished reading, did anymore because I know (and hope) they will be better.
Here is where I am lost. I dunno if I love or hate Yoshimoto’s writing. There were places when the writing felt right and there were places that were just off. I might have to read more of Yoshimoto’s to conclude whether it was the writing or the translation that failed to make me love it. Or maybe that was how the book was intended to be.
Things that worked for me
The simplistic narration talks about ordinary people leading a mundane life but had profound effect on me.
Yoshimoto’s writing is not polished or lyrical, in fact it does not even mince words (but that might be just the translation), yet the simple prose hits the point at most places.
I loved the usage of Kitchen as a metaphor and letting it play a character in the story.
Things that didn’t work for me
Kitchen is not a plot driven novel. And if you are looking for one with lots of twists and turns, you will be severely disappointed.
I felt the translation seemed off at places but I am not sure if it was intentional.
I am still not sure if the usage of transvestite and transgender is accurate. I think they were used interchangeably in the book, I might be wrong.
If you liked The Vegetarian by Han Kang, you might like Kitchen as well. You may like this one or not, but I am sure it will leave a lasting memory either way, just like it did for me.
Let us talk
Have you read this or anything from Japan? Do you like books that are not plot oriented? What other countries do you like me to read about? Let us talk.
I read The Vegetarian a while ago as a part of the A-Z challenge 2018 and yet I couldn’t post a review as soon as I would usually. I can blame my erratic blogging schedule but the truth is The Vegetarian by Han Kang left me so confused and perplexed that I had to step back and mull over what to say.
Watch out for my 100th review!
Yet I can’t think of a better fitting book that I have read in the recent times than The Vegetarian to be my 100th review on my blog. Yes, you heard it right. This would be my ONE HUNDREDTH review on this blog.
The Vegetarian talks of how cultural and societal norms make or break a person’s individuality and define one’s perspective. The Vegetarian consists of three parts Yeong-Hye’s past, present and future, from the perspectives of her husband, her brother in law and her sister Kim In-Hye.
In a country where meat is a staple food, Yeong-Hye stops eating meat, a reaction to the bloody nightmares that she had been facing every night. Until then a passive and unassuming wife, Yeong’s decision is criticized by everyone in the family including her father who even tries to force feed her some meat.
My initial thoughts
The more I read, the more intriguing (bizarre, even?) the book became. And given that it is such a short book, I finished it fairly fast, even when I had to re-read some parts to make sure ‘that’ really happened. Let us get on with the review, shall we?
The Vegetarian is the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2016 among many other awards. If this had gone by my usual luck with award books, I would have been bored by about 20% of the book and still be compelling myself to continue to struggle to the end. WELL, THAT DID NOT HAPPEN.
Just like that Yeong turns from ordinary, according to her abusive and shallow husband Mr. Cheong, to aberrant. What follows is the aftermath of her decision (to be become a The Vegetarian, rather a vegan) and how her family reacts to it. Watch out, The Vegetarian is not an easy read. It will make you question your fundamental assumptions.
The Vegetarian is on the surface a parable on how far can one go to stay put on one’s belief.
But it talks more about the sexism and status of women in a patriarchal society like Korea and other South Asian countries in a pliable and compliant role. The men in Yeong’s life, and thus the novel, are all disgusting in one form or the other and maybe that played a part in her decision to change her life into a ‘plant like’ being.
If you want to read something that has a simple yet lyrical writing, yet will make you think about your judgmental self you should pick The Vegetarian by Han Kang. But be wary of triggering content – like sexual and physical assaults, extra marital affairs and mental illness. You won’t be disappointed.
Let us talk
Have you read this book earlier? Does this book depict life in South Korea? Are there any other books set in South Korea that you have read? What books have you read this week?
Last year I read the Handmaid’s Tale, another one of Atwood’s masterpieces and it ended up being one of the best books I have ever read. So when I saw that Netflix is adapting another of her tales, I promised myself that I will read the book before I watch it, as any sensible bookworm would do.
Unfortunately it took me a while to get to it because let us face it, Atwoods aren’t the easiest read, especially considering that these are and I had easier books to read. So finally when I actually got to read it, was it worth it all? Read on by Book review of Alias Grace!
Grace Marks has been imprisoned since she was 16 years old for the murders of Mr Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery along with the fellow servant James McDermott, who was hanged. A select group of gentlemen and ladies who are convinced that Grace is innocent try to acquit even after an almost a decade has passed since her imprisonment.
They request Dr Simon Jordon, a doctor of the mind, to interview her and build a report to support their cause. Dr Jordon is fascinated by Grace and is more interested in understanding the levels of her sanity than worry if she is guilty. Thus Grace starts recounting her tale from her impoverished childhood in the Northern Ireland to her incarceration.
Born in a family that had too many mouths to feed, Grace was the one to look after her surviving siblings. They sail to Canada when their father becomes a person of suspicion in a local arson and a related murder. Her mother passes away during the journey and their father’s ways soon make her the only working member of the family.
Grace joins Mrs Parkinson’s household as a help where she meets Mary Whitney, who becomes her trusted friend. Mary’s death in ‘abrupt circumstances’ causes Grace to search work in other places and finally she ends up at the Richmond Hall. Within a few weeks, her life is turned upside down and she is sent to the asylum and later the penitentiary on being convicted for the murders.
Dr Jordon is baffled without being able to tell whether Grace is as innocent as she tells him or he is being played. He also struggles through his own battles trying to ward off his desire for his landlady and his mother’s pressure to settle down soon.
How far will he go to find the truth, especially when the truth is too close to home and he is facing the same dilemma himself? How does his scientific mind fare against her faith laden beliefs? Is he a worthy opponent for Grace at all? You will have to read Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood yourself.
Book review of Alias Grace
Atwood’s writing is as expected hard to get into but once you do that, time will fly while you read through those 450+ pages. Much like the Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace speaks much about the gender and the class discrimination. I was hooked to reading about symbolism on the quilt pattern that I had to Google more about them.
I loved the story of Dr Jordon interwove with that of Grace’s personal story without pacing it down. His relationship with the landlady, how he succumbed to it after much resistance and then his dreams about him murdering the estranged landlord showed how much common he had with Grace than he realized.
Alias Grace is dark and melancholic and yet Atwood’s fictionalized version remained true to the facts, as per her afterword where she discusses the known facts of the case. My stance on whether Grace was guilty, or not, changed every time a new part of the puzzle was revealed
Only a seasoned writer can have that ability to make the reader do that even when they know how it was gonna end (thanks to the reviews I had read earlier).
Bottom – line
I can’t now wait to see the Netflix adaptation of the Alias Grace and hopefully I will feel as great as I do after reading the book. If you like true fiction and/or the Handmaid’s Tale you need to read this without fail. I loved it.