The Lovely Bones- Alice Sebold

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I have this habit of Googling ‘similar to’ books whenever I finish reading a book that I like. When I did it after The Virgin Suicides, The Lovely Bones was listed on some forum. So I checked it out on Amazon a few months back and let it be, it didn’t seem too inviting. But last month when this terrible crime happened, I don’t know if it was a coincidence or just creepy internet algorithms being creepy, but this book popped up again on my Recommended Suggestions. Maybe if it hadn’t popped up when it did, it wouldn’t have hit me so hard.

Spoilers ahead.

A fourteen year old girl Susie watches from heaven, helplessly, as her family crumbles apart, unable to come to terms with her death. Her killer, the quiet neighbour who raped and murdered her is still at large, teasing her father into frustration because he is not able to find enough evidence against him. Unable to handle his obsession with finding the truth, her mother drifts apart and finally leaves the family. Her sister joins hands with her father to nail the killer, driving him away from the town to somewhere else where he continues his killing spree. Her baby brother grows up not quite knowing what happened, but well aware of the larger-than-life presence of his dead sister all around the house. Her almost-boyfriend who was initially the key suspect in her murder gets drawn closer to the weird girl in school whom Susie’s spirit touched as she was leaving the earth.
Years roll by and life goes on, and she continues to watch and watch. And the sinkhole in which her body was thrown into continues to fill up, burying the evidence deeper and deeper.The whole story leaves you with a dull ache as you begin to imagine the what-could-have-been versus the what-is.

And then out of nowhere, but quite expectedly, it takes a twist that made me almost throw the book in disgust. I was fine with the narrator being in heaven and even ok with her touching someone as her spirit left earth. But when she comes back after all those years to ‘enter’ that body and tie up all the loose ends, I got annoyed. It undid all the poignant moments and went all stupid and weird. If you could have done this earlier, Susie, the whole book needn’to have even happened :/

Then suddenly it switches back into normal mode with a hurried ending where the killer dies an anonymous death. The icicle killing him was supposed to have some kind of reference to the ‘perfect murder’ setting from a high school camp several years ago, but it felt totally out of place and just left me more frustrated with how everything was wrapped up. I feel the book would have been much better if there was no closure, with the killer still at large somewhere and life continuing to go on as it is supposed to.

Once done with the book, I tried to watch the movie, but it was too meh. The book had dragged on for a tad bit too long and I had no patience left in me to watch the movie too. But maybe this is one of those books where the movie was better? I wouldn’t know now.

And then this. I’m always cynical about ‘missing children’ who pop up on social media and never share those pictures. But then several people asked me to share this saying that the child was someone they knew either directly or indirectly. So I shared the tweets  and was gearing up to tweet to everyone the next day  asking them to delete the pictures once the girl was found. I was sure she would be found. I was hoping for a story the next day with the picture of the smiling child with a couple of police constables. It was such a terrible shock when the worst was confirmed.

There’s nothing that is more terrible than a world where a little child is not safe. Not safe from her neighbour, her teacher, her priest, or even her own father. Her. His. Little boys are as much at risk. This was a very sad and disturbing illustration that I saw today , but it is a reflection of the reality that is hitting us in our faces in a news article every other day.

And then this, my post from long ago about a story I wrote long ago. Still relevant.

It Waits: Andaleeb Wajid

Wait. There’s no food!?

Just when I thought that Andaleeb Wajid had settled comfortably in the food-romance genre she pulls off a horror novel with such effortless ease that it had me wondering if she walked into a basement and wore some kind of bracelet to transform herself to write this book 🙂

Twenty years after she left her hometown, Trishna is forced to go back there to deal with things after her mother’s death and face the monsters of her past, the ones that she ran away from at the age of eighteen.  Little does she know that the monsters of her past would turn out to be literally a monster.

Back in the idyllic little town of Dhakara, she slowly settles into her room with the peeling posters from her teen years and meets familiar faces from those days. The most familiar face being her teenage crush, her one true love, Inder who is now the town doctor. Just when you think that it is going to be a sappy love story with a happy ending, Trishna steps into the basement. And  that’s when things get interesting.

The story suddenly shifts from midnight kisses and chocolate cakes to gore and blood and a human being who is torn apart and eaten. So deliciously good!

All the main characters shaped up really well with just the right amount of fluff needed for a horror story, but I felt Chinnamma’s character could have been better etched so that the reader would have grown to like her more given that youknowwhat. It was so refreshing to see the kids call Inder Inder and not some typical desistyle Uncle Inder. I also liked the way the kids didn’t trust Inder and instead of running helplessly and cling to him when things got scary and went about investigating things on their own. Smart, cool kids.  Like in most of her other books, the undercurrent of that love-hate relationship between the mother and daughter is beautifully expressed , whether between Trishna and her mother or Trishna and Jia.

What I would have liked is a little more reason as to why the monster was so tempting. Why did they need to keep going back. What high did it give them. Was the high like a drug trip or what. And maybe calling it something else. Not It, not monster (to me, monster is something that lives under beds and scares 6 year olds). Something with a name that would have made the reader connect with it better and even root for it. ( I secretly was)

The pace of the book is steady, you don’t feel like putting it down. You might feel like staying up all night wanting to finish it, but that is something that I advise you not to do because the glowing buttons of the AC remote control might give you a teeny tiny heart attack when it suddenly reminds you of It.

Pick up the book. It costs just Rs.30. It is that book with the creepy green eyes on the cover, staring at you, sharing space with Sunny Leone and other tempting erotica on the Juggernaut app here https://www.juggernaut.in/books/8a2a1e2246144722bff9bd00b33a57a9

The Corpse That Spoke: Sidin Vadukut

Expected a movie, ended up watching a documentary.

Wait. Before the book, I first have to say what I want to say about the Juggernaut app. I hate it. Absolutely hate it.

The concept of reading entire books on mobile phones itself is stupid. Ok, I know people who do and I use my Kindle app on all my devices, but the design on this app is so annoying that it makes me want to throw my phone out of the window in frustration. You scroll to read. Scroll down page by page, line by line to read a book that might run into a million pages. You read five pages like this and end up with a headache and all wonky eyed.  Oh, it doesn’t even scroll down page by page. It just scrolls. Like line by line or whatever, with only the page number to tell you whether you are on the same page or yaayy you’ve turned the page. Even apps like Pocket I use for longreads have the page flip option. The  Kindle app  on my laptop scrolls, but one roll of the mouse= one page. THAT IS HOW YOU READ A BOOK. PAGE BY GODDAMN PAGE.

And the thing doesn’t sync across devices, so you have to scroll down right to where you left off if you continue to read somewhere else. (Edit: It apparently does. Or something) And when you pull down the screen to change the brightness or check notifications you end up pulling a few lines down too. Bloody annoying app. Oh, there seems to be some kind of clique and air kissing that happens with the Juggernaut people on social media, so everyone is all ohwow ohcool ohbrilliant about it. Because of this they get defensive when you give them feedback. Whatever. Here’s my review of your app: It sucks.

I first downloaded the app on my huge inch screen phone because free books, but threw the app in the garbage bin after attempting to read something. So when I bought Andaleeb Wajid’s Will the Oven Explode last year, I made her send me a version I could use on the Kindle. I then decided that I should only buy books on this idiotic app only if I know the author and can get a decent version of the book to actually read like a normal human being.

But then yesterday I thought I’d give it another try because new huger inch phone and I bought this book. The app is still as annoying as it was, but I forgive it this time because the book was good. Well, I won’t actually call it a book. A longlongread maybe, but it was a good read. Not great though.

Like I’ve said before, the unDorked version of Sidin is something I enjoy reading. His Deja View column was something I loved. And now this new genre seems to be a thing to look forward to and I hope he writes more pieces like this one, but if they are going to be books, I would expect a little more zing in them.

An immigrant running a shady business and his family that vanishes without trace, a drug lord out from prison, a woman the drug lord is obsessed (?) with and a brother who is determined to find out what happened to his sister… the perfect ingredients for a quickie crime novel or even a movie, but somehow the narration seemed to be too in-between. Everything started off on a very interesting note, but tapered off without much meat. Each chapter seemed disjointed and left a lot of loose ends without proper closure.

What was so special in Belinda Brewin that made him seek her out after five years? The chapter is titled Moll, but there seems to be nothing ‘molly’ about her and the opening lines of the chapter do absolutely nothing to establish anything about her character. It is just a piece of information. Why was Amarjit Chouhan tortured so much? There is nothing in the description of Regan’s character that explains the reason behind him being such a cold blooded killer. It also made me wonder about how stupid the police could be to be mislead to something as lame as the Newport Pig meeting and even more stupid to have missed that crucial piece of evidence (which in itself makes me wonder how it was even possible for a piece of paper like that to have survived seawater). Were his khat connections investigated? Has Onkar Verma got closure?

Anyway.

What this book seems to be is a compilation of several news items that have been pieced together to form a narrative. DailyMail has bits and pieces over the years with pictures of the killers and the killed in classic DailyMail style. And the tl;dr version is available on Murderpedia ( my current favourite pedia).

So until Bollywood makes a movie out of this, let’s make do with what we have.

Back

So I finally found the energy and inclination to recover my password and peek back inside here. All is well. It is almost 2017 and according to my stats people are still hitting this blog almost every other day looking to download Sita’s Curse. (*rolls eyes*. Buy the damn book if you so badly want to read bad softpron). I’ve read around 20 books this year, but was in absolutely no mood to write about them so far. Other than that it has been life as usual.

The best book I read this year was Nayomi Munaweera’s What Lies Between Us, a #freephenyl that I should have reviewed on this blog but didn’t. I have C-Bag’s One Indian Girl and am planning to finish it by the end of this year so that it can be officially listed as the worst book of 2016. I tried a month of Kindle Unlimited and ended up losing the Rs.150 with 0/10 books that I borrowed being read. Bad idea. (Oh, I still have them on one device that has not been synced. So I can still cheat the system and get my money’s worth)

I also learned that someone I mentioned in this post has written a book. Well, not actually written a book, but he has translated a book to English. Good enough. So of course, I read that one. It was a pretty good translation and it made me read up a bit on the fascinating history of  Kerala. Another translation that I read was Goat Days, a very disturbing account of life of an unskilled worker in the Middle East.

For my dose of dark and twisty this year I had The Virgin Suicides and The Girl on the Train. I have a couple more of the same genre lined up for a gloomy weekend. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  has come highly recommended as ‘800+ pages of unadulterated depression’. What more can I ask for.

Started the year with Andaleeb Wajid’s soon to be published book and ended the year with her Will the Oven Explode. Another friend sent me his book, Shadows, but it was some deep stuff that went over my head. So now I’m waiting for the book he is currently writing where apparently his main protagonist is my namesake ( But not named after me).

Then there was this and that, unremarkable books where I just went through the motions.

The forced digital detox this week thanks to the cyclone Vardah made me sit through the day (and night) with my Kindle,sucked into World War I. Yes, the Big Bang Book of This Year has been Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants. What an amazing, amazing journey that was. I’ll write more on this book soon. I’m still reeling from all the information I wikiclicked my way through while reading up on all the historical references in the book.

Anyway. I’m back. And I hope to remain being back all next year.

Coraline- Neil Gaiman: 12/52 (Book a friend recommended )

In what twisted universe is this a ‘children’s book’?

Ok. Reading more about the book, it looks like the author started this off as a children’s book and then it turned out to be a children’s book for adults. And apparently, it scares the daylights out of only us adults, not children. And coming to think about it, all those Enid Blyton books where the toys in the nursery coming alive at midnight seemed so delightful at age seven, but the very concept does sound creepy now.

So. Coraline. The book that gives you disturbed sleep that’s filled with dreams of pale women coming at you with a needle and thread, trying to sew a button into your eye. Coraline is a strong, independent, inquisitive child. She doesn’t like it when people get her name wrong and she doesn’t like ‘recipes’. So on one bored rainy day, she explores her house and finds a door that opens into another world. A world where everything is the same, yet different. And different like you would never imagined.

In any situation, when you have two elderly spinsters living together, there is always a little room for crazy. The two ladies, the delightfully named Miss Forcible and Miss Spink who read Coraline’s tea leaves, give her a stone with a hole and later perform for dogs in the alternate universe, don’t disappoint you with the crazy. The mouse man, for some reason, I pictured as Mr.Heckles. But both him and talking cat I found to be a tad too predictable.

Towards the end, I felt sorry for the other mother though. All she wanted was a little girl of her own, one she could love, cook for and sew button eyes on. But I felt worse for the other father. Somehow, the father seemed to play the same role in both universes, a person just living life and going through the motions.

I don’t think I’ll be watching the movie, I liked they way I pictured things in my head while reading the book and I don’t want to spoil that. But I’ve finally discovered Neil Gaiman and the Ocean at the End of the Lane has come highly recommended as the next Gaiman that I should read. I’m not sure if I’m ready yet, but soon.

Growing up, I did live out my quota of Fantasy World. Like when I tried to stay up past midnight to see if the dolls come to life and such normal things. But this book reminded me of the creepiest thing I did as a kid. I beheaded a pretty little imported doll, a golden haired one named Bonnie that came with a tiny feeding bottle ( a gift from Mrs.Martin, a missionary, whom I remembered when reading about Miss Mitten in GOST) and buried the parts in a wooden chest while the road was being dug up and tarred. I don’t know why I did it, maybe I wanted the doll to go live in some alternate universe or maybe it was some repressed psycho killer tendencies that I was exhibiting. I should make that into a creepy little story like this someday.

PS: Thanks for the recco, The Visitor. I’m ticking this off my reading challenge now.

Aarushi-Avirook Sen: 11/52 ( Set in a place where I’ve lived)

Infuriating

Aarushi

First, repeat after me : My name is Reader and I am not a Judge. I am reading a book, not hearing evidence. I promise to read with an open mind, an open mind and nothing but an open mind so help me god. 

Ok. Yes, I’m a fan of American legal dramas and I wish that this book had been written by John Grisham or the case had been argued by Eugene Young, Plan B-ed and all. But then, who needs fiction when you have Life

This book reminded me again of why and how much I detest Noida, NCR and North India in general. Noida was still synonomous with the Nithari killings when I was planning to move there. A week after I moved, a former airhostess Sheeba Thomas was shot dead for, allegedly, her mobile phone. Two days later, there was a shootout in a society near my place. Less than a month later, Aarushi happened. And the nation still hasn’t recovered from that. I lived in Sector 25 for some time, and made sure I took only the bus to work. But then, that was when I believed that buses were safe and December 2012 hadn’t happened. Later, I moved just across the road from my office building, but I still can’t get over the fear and tension I felt just walking across the park back home on dark winter evenings, looking left and right for Pan Paraag haired men who might rob, rape and kill. Paranoid? Maybe. But NCR continues to haunt my nightmares even now

That day in May 2008 and what followed is still fresh in my memory. The murder, the shock, the pandemonium on TV that night and then the verdict by a rag (TOI or HT?) the very next day, complete with a graphic representation of how Hemraj murdered Aarushi. A few days later, the media verdict was re-verdicted, complete with a graphic representation of an Aarushi in a ‘compromising’ position with Hemraj and an enraged Rajesh Talwar killing them both. (Seven years later, still not having learnt to calm the fuck down, rags will continue such graphic representations; the latest being the Sunanda Pushkar case where we saw a reconstruction of the scene,compete with a floppy haired Shashi Tharoor graphical man). Then came Nupur Talwar’s interview on NDTV where she spoke, calm, collected and cold faced. Yes, I admit it; the fact that she didn’t break down weeping on national television did seem a little unnerving. We all commented on that. But then again, we are a generation so used to seeing public meltdowns on TV when a participant in a dance competition gets eliminated.

This book takes you back to that day in 2008 and tells you the story once more, but this time it tells you what the Talwars want you to hear. There is nothing new actually, most of this has already been reported in some website or the other. Ofcourse, it paints the picture of innocent Talwars. You have little pieces of information passing off as casual narration, but you will read later about how this ‘casual moment’ becomes crucial to the evidence. Like how Aarushi went to bed that night and undid the naada on her pajamas because ‘the elastic was enough, she thought’. An entire section later, you will learn that the undone naada would be invoked by a witness to imply that the pajamas were pulled up after the murder. Or how a golf club, one that would later become part of the actual murder weapons, was ‘casually found while clearing things out and replaced in the set’. Anyway, this book is from the Talwars point of view and this is what you should expect. (Repeating the first line again and moving on)

But it also opens the Pandora’s box of the ugliness of the entire legal system in India, right from the lowly policeman who photographs the evidence and dusts for fingerprints and then says ‘‘Dhyan nahin hai’ to all questions asked in court to the honourable (?) judge who writes about Hemraj’s ‘turgid willy’ and ‘swollen pecker’ in the judgement. Sweepers whose statements are taken as authority in postmortem reports, bloodstained pillow cover evidence that gets mixed up due to ‘typos’, mysterious women and a curious magistrate (who had no business to be there) doing casual disaster tourism to survey the crime scene, multiple lab reports with jarring contradictions, judgmental witnesses who talk about Nupur Talwar’s dressing sense and her ‘looking at herself in the mirror’ at the murder scene, sick mindgames like sending emails to Rajesh Talwar from an id ‘hemraj.jalvayuvihar@gmail.com’ … the list is endless. The casual way in which crucial evidence was mishandled makes me believe that since the police thought they had a clean cut case of Hemraj killing Aarushi, they took it too easy on Day One. And that initial inefficiency and bumbling had a domino effect that went all haywire and led to this. This being Nupur Talwar and Rajesh Talwar in jail, convicted and sentenced to life for honour killing their only daughter. Sounds heavy when you actually spell those words out.

Uglier, are the character assassinations. Building a character judgement based on a teenager’s Orkut communication, getting cheap thrills at the thought a wife swapping group, and using a confession about an extra marital affair during a narco test to blackmail are just the tip of the ugly iceberg. But here again, the author casually drops in bits of information about the caste of the investigating officer to emphasise the point that he takes honour killings for granted.

Did Rajesh and Nupur Talwar do it? I don’t know. Did Krishna and Rajkumar do it? I don’t know. I may never know what happened, but I also don’t know what to believe. There is evidence, lack of evidence, planted evidence, missing evidence, destroyed evidence and then, the truth.

I have grown up, so I am not going to play judge, jury, executioner and gossip columnist. But one thing that this book has proved beyond all doubt is this: The justice system in India is fucked up beyond redemption. And there is no hope.

The Dove’s Lament- Kirthi Jayakumar :10/52 (Book by a female author)

Painful. Reality.

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When I was asked to review this book, I groaned. Yet another chicklit, I thought to myself and rolled my eyes. But a quick search told me that this wasn’t chicklit. It wasn’t even fiction.  It is a book about something so real, something so horrifying, something so sad. And something that we think is so far away, but it is something that is actually knocking at our doors.

Each story begins in a place that need to be magnified on the world map, places that most of us can’t identify offhand. Can you point out to Israel on the world map? Wait. Palestine. Wait. Umm…that area. Maybe. Rwanda? Somewhere in Africa. Bosnia? Is that still even a place? And that country in South America? No idea; I can only identify Brazil in that entire continent. So there you go. Lesson One: Geography. But that’s not what this book is about. It is about history. And current events that will someday be buried in the dusty archives of history.

And it is not just history. Or other people’s conflicts. Or war. Last year’s headlines, the Peshawar massacre is retold through the eyes of siblings who have just discovered each other. You take a diversion from the more known horrors of a Taliban-suppressed Afghanistan and are shown the ugly world of Bachha Baazi, a market where young boys are sold to be dancing ‘girls’ for the rich and perverted. And closer home, the horrifying reality of the Balika Badhus whose stories aren’t as lovable as Anandi’s. There is the never ending saga of the Israel-Palestine conflict; one story, For the Love of a Motherland, shows the irony of how one man’s oppressed is another man’s oppressor. And of course, a book about horrifying conflicts won’t be complete without Kashmir and Srilanka.

The format of this book is interesting, a short-story set in the backdrop of a shameful era of human history like the Srebrenica Massacre ( Go Google it) or the Rwandan Genocide which is then followed by a write up about the the actual conflict. And given the nature of these shameful eras in history, most of these short-stories may not even be fiction.

I remember the 90s when every single day the news reader used to talk about a bombing in Bosnia, a headline that I had no idea about. Fire in a Ring of Ice throws light on an issue that has been so vague to me for the past two decades. A friend’s grandmother used to watch Ulaga Seidhigal for news about Kashmir where her grandson was posted; she thought Kashmir wasn’t a part of India. Is it? I still don’t know. Even in this book, Kashmir has a sad story of its own. With a separate map.

The writing is very good, but I found that the parallel tracks of narration in every story were a bit repetitive and somehow predictable. That style works better for novels; in short stories, there isn’t enough time and space to bring out the depth of each character this way. Though they are all independent short stories, they are gripping enough to keep you going from one to the other without a pause. Makes you  want to know if the next horror is more horrifying than the horror you just read about, and so you keep reading till the very end.

What bugged me? The the urls as footnotes in the print version of the book. It made no sense. Like hashtags on paper or carbon copies in emails. Also, I didn’t understand the cover. Maybe I am not arty enough for it, but I would have preferred a more jarring cover, one that reflects the sadness and pain of the tales inside and stands out so that you take notice of the book in crowded stands.

It is a small book but it covers the entire world. Fly with that dove in search of a safe place to perch, find none, and lament. No, I won’t say that there is hope. I don’t believe in blue skies and rainbows.  I’m a pessimist, so I’lI say that this book has scope to become a trilogy.

You can buy the book here.