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We Need to Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver- 52/52

My biological clock just left the building.

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There is a reason why I picked up this book. I started it a few months ago, but the first couple of chapters were a drag, so I abandoned it. Then something happened last Thursday that made me feel I just had to read this book. And I couldn’t put it down until that very last chapter, that very last line. That very last line that left me stunned.

At first, I thought Lionel Shriver was a man and that is why Eva Katchadourian came out as un-womanly as ever. No woman, I thought, can even think of writing about regretting a pregnancy just because she had to stay off wine. But then, Lionel Shriver is a woman. A woman who wrote a book so stark, so honest, so unapologetic, so bonechilling and so shockingly real.

I hated Eva. If only she had put in half the effort she put to get Kevin her surname into actually understanding and loving Kevin, Thursday may not have happened. Or would it have? Maybe she shouldn’t have wanted the answer to the Big Question. Maybe she should have just let the page be, not turned it. Turned it to reveal the horror on the next page. Maybe. And I hated Franklin. For all his denial. For all his good intentions. I hated him for just wanting to have had Kevin. But Kevin, I couldn’t hate him. I couldn’t love him. I couldn’t feel anything for him.

An unborn child can hear, it can feel, it is scientifically proven. An unborn child can learn the secrets of warfare from his mother’s womb, it has been mythologically proven. And now I believe that an unborn child can hate. A minute old Kevin shuns his mother’s breast. A four year old Kevin destroys his mother’s favourite wallpaper. A six year old Kevin plays mind games with his mother. A fourteen year old Kevin disgusts his mother. An almost sixteen year old Kevin destroys her life. And his. And eleven more.

The writing was not so great, so many digressions. Letters of confession, unsaid words, unthinkable thoughts all poured out to Dear Franklin. But those digressions were probably necessary. You need to know how much she loved her job and her company and her travels , loved those so much more than she loved her son. You need to know about her agoraphobic mother, maybe that mental condition manifested itself in another way in Eva. You need to know about her contempt towards American society, the very society she brought up her son in. You need to know how much importance she gave to her Armenian ancestry and the genocide. You need to know. Because only then you’ll understand the other genocide. That high school genocide.

Devastating. Haunting. Shocking. Mindnumbing. The book kicked me in the pit of my stomach. The book reached inside my heart and squeezed it till it clogged up. The book reached inside my mind, my soul and made me introspect. Yeah.

PS: Two things I didn’t buy. How does Kevin mention ‘flying planes into the World Trade Center’ in April 2011? How does he manage to keep that object he gives his mother in the end? Doesn’t juvi have the same squat and cough rules as in other prisons?

 

Afternote:

Now let’s get personal.

Last week I got a frantic call from a friend. Her 16 year old son had just called the child helpline number and complained about her just because she refused to buy him a laptop. No, not refused. She just didn’t buy it for him the moment he asked for it.

Five years ago, I wrote this 55 word fiction piece.

 “Half that blood is your father’s. How else do I expect you to behave?”She slapped him. “As long as that bitch’s blood runs in your body, don’t call me Appa” He shouted. The mother’s still remained inside when they found him. The father’s blood had coagulated as a pool around that eleven year old wrist.

That was when the same child had threatened to jump off the balcony.

Two years ago, I got this email from my friend. She had fractured her leg and was immobile without her crutches.

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That was when she had asked the boy to study.

And last Thursday, I took calls the whole day. From the mother, from the father, from the aunt and from the child himself. Horrible language was used, tears were shed, family was disowned, death threats were made. The rage resonated across 600+ kilometers and sent a shiver through my spine.‘ Oru savam inniku vizhum paarungo’. And I thought to myself, ‘If only this was America, this boy would have grabbed a gun and shot a dozen of his classmates’. And that is why I picked up the book from where I had abandoned it. No, he is not Kevin, she is not Eva and he is not Franklin. Thankfully, there is no Celia. This is a more complex story. But in some way, they are too.

We take it for granted in India that ‘good news’ questions are in order two months after the wedding. Why India, even George Clooney’s father-in-law wanted babies even before the wedding pictures were sold to a tabloid. And of course, no woman can not want a baby. She is either a monster, a career minded bitch or just plain hormone deficient if her uterus doesn’t skip a beat whenever she sees tiny crocheted socks or catch a whiff of Johnson’s baby powder. Maybe our society, culture and complex family network helps such monsterwomen overcome their true feelings and go on to make happy families. But you can’t deny that such women do not exist. Or that such thoughts do not cross the minds of some women, even fleetingly.

And then there’s postpartum depression. Maybe our oldwives call it something else. But another friend wept to me five years after her daughter had been born. About how she couldn’t touch the baby for a fortnight, how she hated her husband for feeling so comfortable with the baby. About how when she was alone, she slapped the week old baby. Slapped. The. Week. Old. Baby. Again, our family system complete with gushing mothers and mothers-in-law, neighbors, extended family and long paid maternity leave help tide over this kind of crisis. This child has ofcourse turned out alright.

But I’m afraid. Very afraid now. Is there a Kevin walking among us? How many?

 

52 done. And what a book to finish with!

 

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Love Kills- Ismita Tandon : 33/52

A dead woman. A dead man. A bunch of suspects. A determined police officer. Same old?  Oh no. It is dark and twisty interesting.

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Not an edge of the seat whodunnit, but an engrossing read nevertheless.

Thy Will is a deaddiction center run by a psychiatrist Johnny Will who had a disturbed childhood. His ways of ensuring that his patients stay sober are unethical and questionable, they say. I found it a bit contrived. But between him, Sera his psychologist and Zac his half brother, they run a tight and successful ship, catering to The Rich and Famous addicts. Things seem all rosy in the quiet little hill station of Monele until Mira, Johnny’s fiance is found dead due to a morphine overdose.  And when  another gruesome murder happens a few days later, things heat up. Fifteen years ago Johnny’s father was found dead under mysterious circumstances and Officer Ray who had his hands tied wasn’t able to nail Johnny in the crime. But this time, he is not letting him off that easily.

The narration did seem a bit cluttered with each chapter being written from the perspective of each character. I would have preferred longer chapters and lesser characters in this format. But the book keeps you going till the end without breaking the pace, keeping you guessing till the very end. Everyone seems to have a motive and the means, Johnny, Sera, the cousin Azaan, Zac, the evil aunt Adele. At one point I even wondered if it was Marie, the housekeeper. And everyone tells their story, trying to convince the reader of their innocence until finally, one of them reveals the truth. But is it the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Ah.

Three things bugged me in the book. One was the fictitious town of Monele. But this has nothing to do with the actual book. Rather, it was the local in me who found it difficult to accept a picture perfect town full of rich party people and a hotel called Seven Seas an hour or so away from where I actually live. I just got a bit picky. Faraway imaginary Malgudi and Brahmpur were perfectly fine with me. But a Monele that claims to be next door? A Ketti Palada, maybe.

The other was the excessive use of Westernised names. Agreed, Ooty is full of Anglo Indians, maybe even people with wannabe western names. I won’t be surprised if there is a house actually named Thy Will, we have a The Tryst there. But this setting, totally removed from ‘Indianness’ and Ootyness did seem a bit odd to me. Not a deal breaker though. The actual plot was interesting and made up for this, so I let it pass.

And ouch, ‘The lesser known poet’ being plugged in obviously and less obviously in more than one place. That made me cringe. The author’s poetry blog should have stayed in the About page, not in Officer Ray’s narration or in sly plugs elsewhere.

I don’t usually like to use the genre/category ‘Indian author’, but it was such a nice change to read a gripping murder mystery by an ‘Indian author’ instead of the current trend of  ‘humour’ or chicklit. I read the reviews of the author’s previous book, Jacob Hills and will definitely pick it up.

This book has been reviewed as a part of GetPublished program by IndiBlogger

The Likeness- Tana French :27/52

Well, Sowcar Janaki did this 50 years ago in Pudhiya Paravai. Anyway.

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Tana French was on that list of Books for Gone Girl Fans. But halfway through In The Woods, I made the mistake of reading a review that had a spoiler. (Spoiler: There is no spoiler). I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it after that. So I picked up the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Hmmm. Not so great.

For starters, I’m not a believer in ‘exact likeness’.  The Second Lady had years of plastic surgery and acting classes. But the ‘likeness’ in this book was too far fetched to be believable. A girl is stabbed to death, a girl who not only looks exactly like Cassie Maddox, but also someone who goes by the identity of the made up undercover persona she used four years ago. *rolls eyes*

Whitethorn House, the main character, is dark. A sprawling, dilapidated house with a history, looming large over the tiny, dying Irish village.The four (five) inmates go back and forth from being sad little losers to borderline creepy. But then they also make you believe in human relationships that go beyond immediate family. And no surprise, as Cassie finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into this strange little family, the lines between Cassie the detective and Lexie the dead girl get blurred. And slowly, you too find yourself sinking comfortably into the ragged chairs and playing poker in the cold, wet living room of Whitethorn House. You’re in no hurry to find out who the killer is.

The book could have been crisper and racier. It went on quite aimlessly for several chapters even after the mystery was actually solved. The prose was beautiful, painting vivid pictures of the Irish landscape and moonlit rainy nights. But for a murder mystery, I would have preferred less of the prosey prose and a little more zing. Though this book tied up all the loose ends unlike (spoiler) the other one, the subplot was as far fetched as the exact likeness and it wasn’t something that gave it any closure.

No, I’m in no hurry to read the rest of the Tana French books.