Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling ~ by Robert Galbraith

To begin with let me say that this is a really enjoyable novel.  From the first, I was hooked, and delighted in every twist and turn that we have come to expect from the novelist who brought us the Harry Potter series.  Rowling's private investigator, Cormoran Stike - what a great name!- is in the classic murder mystery style; a flawed, troubled, hard-living, hard- drinking ex-army officer, who is down on his luck but afraid of no one.  His love-life is in the toilet, but he still manages to attract the ladies.

At his side is his trusty new secretary Robin, as reliable as Batman's sidekick, a fiesty, quick-witted, normal girl from the north of England who is the prefect match for Strike's unorthodox methods and rock 'n roll family background. Together they make a winning team, especially as their is a possible simmering attraction just hinted at between them. But as we know, Rowling has a history of writing great platonic friendships between the sexes, so we only hope that there will be a sequel, so that we can find out if Robin goes through with her marriage plans to her perfect fiance or not.

But what seems curious to me is that J.K. Rowling chose to reinvent herself with this book, using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and not her first post-Potter publication, 'The Casual Vacancy'. My own theory is that she uses the pen name to create some distance between herself and the story. Indeed, there are some parallels between Rowling and the murder victim at the center of this novel , Lula.

Like Rowling, Lula is world famous, and spends her life in the public glare.  She is followed by unscrupulous paparazzi who make a living out of the suffering of others.  The author certainly has much to say about the behaviour of the British press, and even refers at one point to the practice of phone tapping. Of course, Rowling herself was involved very publically, in the recent Leveson phone-hacking inquiry in Britain, so the impact of such intrusive behaviour was obviously on her mind and such thoughts have found their way into the narrative here.

Here Galbraith (aka Rowling) cleverly chides the British tabloid press and comments on their lack of moral judgement when interfering in the lives of the famous, and sometimes vulnerable members of the public, through the mouthpiece of this male author, while leaving herself out of the argument.  Cleverly done Joanna!  

What this novel does so brilliantly though, is to put celebrity under the microscope; to question if happiness does follow fame, to consider the long line of hangers-on who silently group themselves around celebrities, like hungry sharks waiting to attack; and the endless minor celebrities who would do anything to get one notch higher on the fame ladder.
The divas, dodgey dealers and even the druggies are all mentioned here.

By setting the story in the world of modling,  Rowling cleverly keeps the novel at one remove from herself and the world of film and books, that she knows so much about.
As one of the most famous living writers, she must know a thing or two about the preying press and how such unexpected adoration, can change the way others behave around you
As such, the novel was a fascinating study on what fame is really like and the very act of writing about it at all and in such an honest way, reveals just how unchanged and normal Rowling is, despite her reknown thc world over.

One last thing, there is a considerable amount of swearing in the novel, and I only mention this in case you might consider accessing this text on audiobook: I heartily recommend you use headphones should there be any little people about.  That said, this is a most enjoyable read, full of memorable characters and  plot twists that are bound to please.  A good book club choice.  7/10

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Pleasure Seekers~ by Tishani Doshi

Alive with the sounds, tastes and smells of India, here is book to set your taste buds tingling! While 'The Pleasure Seekers' ostensibly tells the story of a young Indian man, Babo, who falls in love with Sian, a red-headed girl from Wales, it is much more than that.  The opening paragraph recounts a dream- the very first dream- of Prem Kumar Patel, Babo's father, in which he climbs mountains trying to find his wife and four children, feeling as if he was taken 'back to the coils of his mother's womb' and hurled 'to the end of his life'.  Such is the imaginative, metaphorical scope of poet, turned novelist,Tishani Doshi, whose prose style is the most original aspect of the book.  Indeed, as is often the case with modern novels, nothing very unusual or unexpected happens in this story; it traces the life-events of one family over a number of years, charts the highs and lows of life that we are all familiar with.  Yet what is original about his story is the way that Doshi considers these mundane events and shares her thoughts with the reader.  In this way, the book is more than anything a philosophical novel. Perhaps I should be more specific and say that this is a book filled with the author's views about life, people and familial relationships.

As the book is primarily a story of enduring love, despite prohibitive distances, both culturally and geographically; there is much for the author to ponder about the bonds that hold families together and the contradictory human desire to strike out alone in the world.  There is something which drives us all to become separate from the humans who created us, and this is what makes the book an interesting read.

I found  that Doshi was particularly insightful when it came to dissecting the mother-daughter bond, and the often traumatic separation that occurs in families whose parents hail from two, different countries.  The sense of belonging nowhere, yet yearning for a home place, is keenly felt on every page.

While I was captivated by the initial scenario, which is loosely based on Dohi's own parent's relationship, I did find that the second half of the book was somewhat disappointing.  The depiction of the parents as the eternal honeymooners, was particularly unrealistic in my point of view and detracted from the overall veracity of the text.
However, this minor disappointment was more than made up for by the wonderful character of Ba, the wise old grandmother, a semi-witch -like figure, whose blindness was compensated for by her extraordinary sense of smell.  Ba was a women who could foretell a child's future at a glance and could smell that guests were arriving , though they were many miles away.  It seems ridiculous I know, but Doshi manages to bring this almost mystical character into the novel and allows her to live side by side with her other more mundane earthlings.  This is a sign of the poet's deftness as she forces us to suspend our disbelief because Ba represents everything that we like to associate with India: mysticism, wisdom, knowledge, and ancient goodness.  I do not think that I would have enjoyed the novel half so much without her colourful presence in the book.
I cannot end without noting the many mouth-watering references to food in the novel: I had an appetite for Indian cuisine the entire time that I was reading the book.  I get the sense that food and the preparation of it is hugely important to the author, and her characters too.  And while the book begins with the story of the male protagonist, Babo, this is very much a story about women, mothers, daughters and wives; their lives, their choices and their relationships.  For this alone, I think the novel is worth sampling, and if nothing else, it will give you a taste of India that will send you scurrying to the pantry for that bag of rice, and that tin of coriander, to recreate something of the sensual journey that is promised by 'The Pleasure Seekers'.