Gone Girl

So I read Gone Girl. As usual, it was by chance (is that an oxymoron, btw?). I had just downloaded the Aldiko E-book reader and wanted to try it out and the only epub file I had with me was this one. So I just loaded it to check, and boy, was it incredible!

Gone Girl (Cover)
Gone Girl (Cover)

Gone Girl, the 3rd of Gillian Flynn’s works (each “darker” than the previous, according to the reviews I’ve skimmed through), is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a painfully beautiful and charming couple who had a romcom-ishly perfect courtship and marriage only to realise that they are, basically, two psychos. Seriously. There is no other word for it! Now I’m not going to go into the plot because I’m pretty sure half the world have seen this movie and been adequately scarred for life. At least I was.

Truth be told, the reason I decided to watch the movie (back then, I had no idea it was an adaptation of the book) was mainly because I had a crush soft spot for Ben Affleck. So I started watching the movie in my usual I-am-watching-and-playing-game-and-fiddiling-on-my-phone mode. I wasn’t really into it. Sure, there was a bunch of stuff happening on screen but I wasn’t…hooked, you know. Heck, I didn’t even understand half of what was going on! What made me sit up was seeing Neil Patrick Harris on the big screen (Pretty sure you are starting to sense a pattern here). And in a bit, The Boy Met The Girl and all hell broke loose. In other words, I got mindblown.

To say that the story is a disturbing one would be like saying Messi is a footballer or gulab jamun is a sweet – diabolical would be more appropriate, especially since the Doer-of-All-Evil is a woman. Yes, I know how that sounds. But you have to remember that we, as a society, have it ingrained in our mind that women are essentially sweet and delicate and incapable of planning, much less seeing through, incredibly and intentionally evil schemes. But that is exactly Amy does. And this is, by far, the most contradicting-ly feministic and misandristic blur of a book I’ve ever read. For instance, Amy, while waiting for the news on television about ‘how her cheating, lying, scum of a husband killed her’, makes the following observation:

“Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxi pad commercial, windex commercial – you’d think all women do is clean and bleed.” 

It is said so casually, in so wry a tone that you can’t help but chuckle. That, I feel, is the power of this book. Flynn has constructed a good-on-paper-but-not-so-much-in-real-life situation which, thanks to the characters, seems not unoccurable.

And to be honest, I loved reading the book. Nick and Amy take turns narrating the story and as in real life, their versions of it are conflicting. He sees the rainbows, she sees the rain. He sees the spilled flour, she sees the cake. Life as it is. But more than just characters and premises, what grips you (with a bit of dread, if you will), is the idea of how easy it is to manipulate reality. It’s a bit like Inception – only that it is real and unpleasant and detailed to a fault. As Joshua Rotham wrote in The New Yorker,Gone Girl is fascinating because it gets at what is unsettling about coupledom: our suspicion that, in some fundamental sense, it necessarily entails victimization. Just as Fight Club showed that manliness and violence were imaginatively inseparable, Gone Girl raises the possibility that marriage and victimhood are inseparable, too. In real life, this is a widespread suspicion, sometimes justified, sometimes not. Gone Girl has resonated for a reason. It has found a creepy, confused, and troubling part of us, and expressed it.’

Or as Nick puts it (in simpler words),

“There’s a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.”

Suffice to say that this is the first book that I’ve read in a long time (and by that I mean a VERY long time) that I’ve read with an intensity reminiscent of my fervent-bookaholic days.

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THE PAINTER OF SHANGHAI

As often is the case, I found The Painter of Shanghai by pure chance. I had lent my library card to my roommate because she was utterly bored and wanted to walk it off and had no place to go except the nearby library. So off she went and when she came back, she had this book clutched in her hand. Though I didn’t say anything just then, I was secretly disappointed at her choice. I had once tried reading ‘The Memoirs of Geisha’ and was unable to enjoy it even slightly, so the description of ‘Can a concubine escape her past?’ didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Which explains why this book was left untended to for about 2-3 weeks before lack of alternate reading materials forced me to pick it up.

The Painter of Shanghai
The Painter of Shanghai

The Painter of Shanghai’ also published as ‘The Painter from Shanghai’ is a fictional version of the real-life story of Pan Yuliang, a young orphan who went on to be celebrated, if rather controversial, woman artist (a term that irritates her to no end) of China. It traces her journey from an innocent girl sold to a brothel by her opium-addicted uncle, to that of a young woman who ends up being a concubine to a virtuous government official (Pan Zanhua) at Shanghai. There she discovers the talent in herself and goes on to pursue a life as a painter. Her choice to paint nude self-portraits creates much controversy, particularly in the war-ridden Shanghai of 1930s until she moves to Paris where she attains the acclaim she deserved. Jennifer Cody Epstein, the author of Painter of Shanghai, has done a wonderful job of recreating the life of Pan Yuliang. I particularly loved the poems that are intertwined with the prose. One of my favourite is the last line of Li Qingzhao’s poem that goes:

I caress the withered flower, fondle the fragrant petals

Trying to bring back the lost time

As always, Pan Yuliang’s remarkable legacy was honored in the way it should be much after her death in 1977. However, even today, her nudes continue to cause controversy and furore – in 1993, an exhibition of her work in Beijing caused enough concern that several of her nudes were removed.

After all, it is not in vain that the famous French artist Henri Matisse once remarked “Another word for creativity is courage”.


Driven by curiosity, I managed to locate a few of Pan Yuliang’s works – ‘The Lingnan School’s‘ site offers much more insight to her artistial journey. I’ve attached two of my personal favourite paintings of hers’.

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Oh, and as always, happy reading 🙂

PERSEPOLIS – MARJANE SATRAPI

You know how sometimes you pick up a book with the hope of achieving nothing but a lightness of mind, sort of like a distraction from all that is going on around you? That is the reason why I started reading Persepolis. It had been introduced to me by a friend and though I found it mildly interesting, I had put it on my ‘Must-read’ list. Well, if you must know, my ‘Must-read’ list comprises of widely acclaimed books like those of Marquez’s and Tolstoy’s that I’d really love to be in love with. Someday.

For one, Persepolis is a graphic novel. You know, the ones with cute illustrations, characters speaking out in bubbles and rouge-on-the-cheek shown as a blob of pencil shade. Like Tintin. Or Calvin n Hobbes. Funny, but a bit juvenile, I thought. Boy, was I wrong!

Persepolis 1 & 2 traces the story of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian girl. With simple words and illustrations Marjane describes her memories of growing up in the war-struck country, moving to Vienna at 10, coming back after a few years, studying in Iran under the reign of Islamic Revolutionaries and finally moving out for good.

Personally, I’ve been very interested in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Islamic nations (except for the UAE. Yawn!) I know not where this fascination comes from, but it has resulted in me trying to read Quran, understand the fanatics’ perspective and such in my late teens. Needless to say, my grandparents were deeply disturbed by this, even as my parents tried explaining to them that ‘it was just a phase’. My mother blamed it on Kamala Suraiyya and stopped prodding me to read Malayalam literature. Anyway, my point was, as much as I tried to understand what is going on there, there were always holes in my theories, you know. For instance, how the entire thing started was a mystery – yes, I knew it was about the oil and yes, the ‘Burger-and-Fries’ nation was involved, but the real deal – no idea. I tried reading about it in magazines and newspapers but after 2 pages of words like ‘imperialists’, ‘savak’, ‘proletariat’ etc, I gave up. It took too much effort to understand what was going on.

What I find absolutely amazing about Persepolis is the ease with which the author explains what went wrong at Iran. It describes the effect of the countries mucked up political situations on the common man with simple words, instances and often, a tinge of humor. For example, Satrapi describes one of her brushes with the extremists and their obsession with women ‘maintaining their dignity’ in the following strip.

A page of 'Persepolis'
A page of ‘Persepolis’

I could go on and on about this, but nothing I say can do justice to Satrapi’s work. All I can say is this one is, officially, one of my favs.

So, happy reading 🙂

PS: If anyone is tempted to give Persepolis a shot, I have the ebook with me. Drop me a mail and I’ll let ya borrow it.

Falling for ‘What Young India Wants’

There are a lot of things that you don’t do in life – for various reasons. Some things you don’t do because you don’t want to do it. Like getting drunk. Or eating curd rice. Or eat curd rice when you are getting drunk – you get the gist. Then there are some things that you don’t do because you KNOW it’ll get you killed – like check if you are, by some stroke of fate, a long-lost third cousin of Spiderman, or put up a Facebook status that goes “Mohanlal is fat”. And then there are things that you really want to do/say but don’t because you know that it’ll make you seem – there is no poetic way to say this – LAME to the world.

Where are you going with this, you ask?

Well the point is there is something that I really want to say but is hesitant due to Reason No.3. But I really want to say it so I’m gonna just blurt it out fast so that I can try to pretend I didn’t say it, okay?

Here goes. *Deep breathe*

I’mKindaStartingToFindChetanBhagatReallyREALLYCool.

There. I said it.

You know that guy who writes predominantly crappy novels that get turned into rather crappy movies that people love? Yup, I’m talking about him. Correction – only two of the movies turned out to be total crap – 3 Idiots and Hello. The rest of them, the movies that is, were pretty good. *And this is where it dawns on me that there is only one other book that has been adapted onscreen. Good going Navmi, good going*

So where was I? Haan…Chetan Bhagat. As someone who has read every single one of his unbelievably ridiculous books that somehow turns out to be bestsellers (I can personally justify the popularity of 2 States. That one, you gotta admit, was pretty cool), I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always had a certain amount of scorn for people who find his books “awesome!” Imagine the look on the face of someone who has watched a Leonardo DiCaprio movie if you tell him Nargis Fakri is your favourite actor. That’s how I’ve felt every time I heard “Chetan Bhagat is my favourite author”.

Around 2 weeks back, I came across one of his books, “What Young India Wants”. Expecting the usual potpourri of the girl-who-kisses-the-poor-timid-guy, sex scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot and a storyline that makes as much sense as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, boy, was I surprised to find myself hooked – like dream-about-reading-the-book hooked – to it. So much that I dashed off to Flipkart and bought that babe home. And lemme tell ya…it has been a hell of a long time since I’ve done THAT.

Hey, before you dash off to check out ‘What Young India Wants’, a word of caution. The book, is by no means, an awesome piece of literature. The content is, to be frank, nothing new. It is a seeda-saada Chetan Bhagat book.

And yet I was (and am) totally smitten. The entire book, a collection of selected essays and columns CB has penned over the last few years, is very well put-together. The issues CB brings up have been discussed about at length and with varying degrees of seriousness and expertise. So nothing new there. The real pull of the book for me was how it spoke about various issues in India like an average Indian who is so in love with the country, despite all that is wrong with her. An Indian who dreams of India growing up to make a name for Herself not unlike how our parents dream for us. A tad bit silly, I guess. But you and I, my friend, are in our hearts, subscribers of that silliness. Often, it is the only thing between us and insanity in this amazing country which is, many a time, an increasingly frustrating place to live.

Open – Andre Agassi

Two. That is the number of tennis matches I’ve seen in my entire (albeit short) life. So yes, it did seem a tad too ambitious of me to expect that I’ll enjoy a 400-ish page autobiography of one of THE legends of tennis, Andre Agassi.

Of the two tennis matches I’ve watched, the first was the 2009 Australian Open where Federer lost to Nadal. And during the awards ceremony, one of the most composed legends of tennis had tears rolling down his cheeks (Needless to say, I was blubbering like a baby myself, as was the entire crowd). It was and will always be one of the most touching moments in the world of sports. The second match I saw was the 2012 French Open Mixed Doubles where Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati emerged champions. Why I watched the first match, I can’t recollect now but I watched the second one because of Sania and in both cases, I had no idea what was going on the field. I didn’t understand even the basics of the game, much less the terms they used or even how they kept score. I’m more of a team person – I adore football and cricket and even a bit of hockey. But tennis confused me. I couldn’t empathize with the players. If you can’t empathize with the players, you don’t feel their pain, their joy or their frustration. And if you can’t do that, you can’t enjoy the sport. It’s as simple as that for me.

I picked up Open because I read a page and it seemed fun. Yes, that is my fool-proof system of selecting books – I pick a page at random and read it. If I like what I read, then the book is mine. I don’t care if it is about How Lily Baked the Cake or The Large Hadron Collider. I don’t have to understand every single word I read (And I often don’t!) – I just need to enjoy it.

Open turned out to be synonymous to its title – an open account of Agassi’s life. His journey from childhood, being the World No: 1 in 1995 till his retirement in 2006. About the love-hate relationship he has with tennis. The mistakes he made, the games he lost, the much talked about Sampras-Agassi rivalry. The pain of losing his beloved hair and becoming bald. His marriage to Brooke Shields, their subsequent divorce. About courting and marrying Steffie Graf (hands down THE most beautiful and talented tennis player ever) and their two adorable kids.

To read the book was like a visual experience – I could see Agassi’s life unfolding before me as if it were a movie. His childhood at Nevada, an entire life dedicated to tennis because his father wouldn’t have it any other way. Hating tennis, but excelling in it.

As Agassi puts it, “It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.”
Often when he describes the matches he plays, it is as if you can almost hear the crowd cheering (or booing). The satisfaction of a game well played, the crushing disappointment of a match you thought you had clinched slip away before your eyes, the rigorous (and grueling) physical training…you actually feel it all.
Yet, the book is surprisingly fun to read. Even the darkest moments of his life are described lightly, maybe even with a tinge of humour – The first time his wife’s and his own father met (Andre describes Steffie’s father as the German Mike Agassi) which ended up with them almost wrestling with each other (one being 67-years-old and the other 63!), the time when he accidently shaved off his 6-month-old son’s head… Agassi also opens (Oh my…there is that word again!) up about his intense respect for Federer, the irony of the ninth-grade dropout starting a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children and much more. In short, the book is a record of his life as an extraordinarily ordinary human being

And what a life it has been. Maybe if I had been an avid follower of tennis, I’d have been more critical and less amazed by the depths of the game and this player. But since I am not, I can’t help being moved by his account of his life. And I understand why he was given a 4-minute standing ovation when he retired at the age of 36. But then again, Sachin is still going strong at 40, so there!

The Times describes ‘Open’ as an “Engaging, thrilling…a superbly written book.”

And I have to say – It truly is.

Happy Reading 🙂

Mistress by Anita Nair




If I were to count the number of times I’ve passed over this book at my college library, my two hands would be barely sufficient. Even though I was told time and again that it was an excellent book, my reluctance stemmed from 2 things – two very flimsy factors. 

First was the image of Kathakali on its front page and the brief description on the back of the book (Yes yes…I know what they say about judging a book by its cover!). I have watched Kathakali. I say “watched” because to say that I’ve enjoyed it would be a lie. The best I can own is that I’ve enjoyed parts of it. Certain other parts I’ve been completely bored with. There is a Malayalam saying “kadha ariyathe aattam kanuka” which means to watch the dance without knowing the story. That was how I used to watch many of the Kathakali recitals I have been to. But I attend every Kathakali and Krishnan-aattam recital I can, mostly just because I’m mesmerized by the costumes and proficiency of the dancers. 

The second factor was the title. And the story line. Extramarital affairs and adultery, I didn’t mind. But here’s the thing. I have observed that when Indian authors write about love and passion and sex, they tend to border on sleaze. I do realise now that my field have been pretty limited and that I haven’t read many of the acclaimed works of Indian authors and that is probably why I had this prejudice. So when I saw that the book revolves around Kathakali and read through the synopsis, I thought “This isn’t my cup of tea.”

By now, you might have inferred that I ended up loving this book. Obviously. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the pains to put up this post. Right from the prologue where the author very considerately assured me that she “realizes that I know very little of this world she is going to take me into” to the very last line of the epilogue. 

What I loved about the book was how beautifully it described Kerala – the beauty of rain, the birds, the seasons… I have grown up my entire life in a city, with just occasional brushes of village life (usually during summer vacations) at my paternal village. But my parents, both of them, have grown up wading through paddy fields to go to school and have spent their free time plucking mangoes of neighbourhood trees or diving into muddy ponds and river for respite from the scorching sun. I’ve heard them recounting their childhood experiences numerous times and have lived their lives through their words. So when Anita Nair set her story at a village in Shornur and narrated the story through the eyes of its inhabitants, I could see it as if it was unfolding in front of me. 

Another highlight was the multiple-person narrative. To see the same story unleash through the eyes of the different characters made it much more real and human. Radha, with her superiority complex about art and her dissatisfaction with life, Shyam with his undying love for his wife Radha and his unapologetic love for money & status, Chris the foreigner, who walks into their life and wreaks havoc. And Koman Aashan, the Kathakali maestro, the silent observer with his unexpectedly beautiful reminisces. The story weaves through the lives of Radha and Shyam and the vulnerability of the marriage of 2 wonderful individuals who have not a thing in common, not even mutual love or respect. And Chris, the Greek God. And how Aashan sees and absorbs the drama unfolding in front of him in the only way he knows – through his Kathakali. To say more would ruin the book for you (if you are planning to read it). 

So let me wind up with this – I enjoyed meeting Shyam, Radha, Aashan, Chris and every other person who popped into their life now and then. I’ve seen them in the people around me. I’ve heard of them in the stories achan used to share. And I’ve enjoyed the journey through the nuances of Kathakali…much MUCH better that I thought I would. I am not sure if I understand Kathakali any better, but I respect it and love it, and lot more that I did before I picked up this book. 

Anita Nair promises her readers in the prologue that “she will transmit at least some of the love for her art to me”. And in that, she has succeeded.