Thursday, August 03, 2006

Four brief book reviews.

I just had to tell you about a couple of books that I read. My aunt gave them to me as a gift.

One was "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall-Smith. This is a charming novel about Precious Ramotswe, a "traditionally built" single woman who lives in Botswana, and is the only lady detective in the whole country.

The book is fully of small mysteries, that she solves singlehandedly, using just logic and a perceptive knowledge of human nature. In the background of all the simple little problems of life, lies a sinister mystery waiting to be solved, and she does this too, with her usual elan. Comparisons to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple are rife in reviews about this book, but where Miss Marple is a sweet, old, mildmannered armchair detective, Mma Ramotswe is a firm, opinionated, independent, strong-willed, compassionate, Red Bush Tea-drinking individual on the threshold of middle-age.

You will love the protagonist, as will you love the other characters, the most prominent of them being Mr. JLB Matekoni, the expert mechanic who hopes to marry Mma Ramotswe. The book paints a beautiful picture of the little-known land of Botswana, for which Mma Ramotswe nurses a fierce love and pride.

I can assure you that you will not come away from this book without feelings of adoration, amusement, and warmth. I highly recommend it! And of course, now it has me thirsting for the other books in the series!

The second book is "I don't know how she does it" by Allison Pearson. It is the story of a working mother. It is funny, sad, and incredibly chaotic. Kate Reddy, the protagonist is highly likeable but at the same time insufferable. Her story is probably one of every working mother. Kate is torn between love for her job and the desire to be with her kids. Add to this, a feeling of profound guilt, and a long-suffering husband, and there, you have the story.

The book is a very good read. In many ways it was a revelation . It was like the answer to the endless discussions I had with friends during college days, about whether we would work when we have children - and then finally say - ok, let us cross that bridge when we come to it. This book has the answers. Oh no, this book doesn't preach working motherhood, nor the opposite, it just tells a story, it just gives you the facts. It is up to you to pick what you want from it. It was slightly disturbing, I must say. But it is very interestingly written. Full of laugh-out-loud similes, and spot-on behavioral observations.

Actually, while I am at it, I must tell you about a couple of other books. One is "Moulin Rouge" by Pierre La Mure, yes, the same book on which the movies (one old, one new) are based. I haven't watched either movie, but from the reviews, I gathered that the movies deal with just a small part of the book. The book is about the brilliant painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Crippled, and a dwarf, his entire life is spent in the pursuit of love and acceptance. Meanwhile, he paints. Paints outrageous pictures, which shock society. While he pursues love, fame and success pursue him. But all that he wants is love. It is a heart-rending story - another must read.

Then there is the story "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood. This is a magnificent book. The basic story is about two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase. Laura dies under questionable circumstances, and Iris is now an octogenarian. She is writing a journal about her life, for her estranged granddaughter, whom she hopes to meet some day. So, parts of her story is revealed to us through this story. Then in parallel, there are extracts from the novel written by Laura Chase. The name of this novel is "The Blind Assassin", and it is a kind of a diary maintained by a young girl while waiting for her lover. And the story - The Blind Assassin? It is narrated to her by her lover. Then there are bits and pieces of the story revealed by newspaper clippings. The novel keeps going back and forth in time - and looks like a hotchpotch of excerpts from a journal, a novel, and a newspaper, but it all comes together superbly at the end.

Confusing? That is why I never attempted a review. It is too difficult. Anyway, the way Margaret Atwood has woven all the stories together is amazing. As for the writing - it is fantastic. By the way, this book won the Booker Prize in 2000.

So there you have it - Four books - one charming, one thought-provoking, one heart-rending, and one awe-inspiring. Take your pick. Happy reading.


Bhargav said...

Based on the your review on the Blind Assassin, I guess I've seen such movies. I haven't had an opportunity to read one. There is a difference between, I guess, in reading and actually being fed with visual images. Hope when I start the book it might be a good experience. Your reviews are pretty neat. The review for the second book 'I don't know how she does it', made me think the topic as mundane, but the last line lightened my spirits. I have come across movies on Miss Marple in the libraries here. Haven't found the time yet. Anyways...good job. have time to read '4' books at a time!!

Viky said...

Will read. Every one of them.

Sachin said...

Wow Shruthi, you convinced at least one person to read all the books!!! :)

Well, am reading a book called "The Life of Pi" right now and it seems promising....and post that I will take up "The Godfather Returns" (am already getting rave reviews for it by my wife who's half way through it). Might write a post on these 2 when am through with them. The first one in your list appealed to me....

As for the "working mother with kids" conundrum, I only wish to say that I wish it was possible for both the father and mother to work half day each and spend time with the kids!!!! Its not only the mother's responsibility, right? Don't know if you follow Desperate Housewives but Tom and Linette in that series are an example there (positive or negative I won't say).

Maverick said...

i've just started reading 'to kill a mocking bird' which u recommended. four more books! goshhhhh u read a lot!

Shruthi said...

Bhargav: Mmmmm I wouldn't really say that you would have the same experience as that of a movie - this is much more complex. Anyway do try it out!
"I don't know how she does it" is definitely about a mundane topic - office, work, babies and diapers - but the way it is dealt with, is anything but!
Miss Marple movies? Didn't know such things existed! :)
Oh nooo I haven't read 4 books at a time :D. TBA was read long back.. Moulin Rouge about 2 months ago. The first two - I finished just a little while ago.

Viky: Goody! I am sure you'll enjoy them!

Sachin: That's cool :)
Life of Pi is one amazing, incredible book! The setting is so unrealistic, but still you can believe it. Sprinkled with lovely bits of philosophy, it is a lovely story. Enjoy reading it! :)
Haven't read Godfather Returns. Looking fwd to the reviews!
Yes, Sachin, the baby is not only the mother's responsibility. But there are a lot of practical problems in the scenario you suggest - not the least of them being that our society hasn't evolved that much yet to facilitate such a scenario to happen.

Maverick: Sigh... yes... a post is coming up soon, on that very subject!

Soums said...

Thanks, will definitely read all of them!

Shruthi said...

Soums: I see that you have an excellent list of "Favourite books" on your site! Haven't read a fair number of them.

Srik said...

Yeah.. 'Moulin Rouge' brought tears out when I was turning those fabulous pages!! Oh! I agree with Bhargav that watching the visually impressive shows and imagining those impressive scenarios are completely different experiences. I would love to read a book, even though someone has told me the story.. Its because of the sheer enjoyment.

Thanks Shruti for this wonderful post. Its a honour to be on your 'most wanted'!!

Ranjit Nair said...

Shruthi, I liked the way you introduced 'The No. 1 Ladies...'; have seen it around in bookstores, but your description of it makes me want to buy it. Btw, read Lance Armstrong's autobio (wasn't that your recommendation as well?), and it rocks.

Sachin, if you are a hardcore 'Godfather' purist, I don't think you would appreciate 'G Returns' much - the 'magic' is somehow missing. Its well-researched, decently written, but IMO falls short of falling into the kick-ass category. And as Shruthi said, 'Life of Pi' is an amazing, amazing book. I was thrilled when Shyamalan said he was gonna make it, its a very Shyamalan concept alright.

Anonymous said...

*rubbing hands with glee* more, please, more! :))
btw, have heard so much about that detective agency book!


Sachin said...

Shruthi, I completely agree...thats why my comment was a conjecture and a wish as well.... anyway its US who form society so lets see what we get upto in the future, we do have quite a bit of time in hand!

Ranjit: Thanks! Actually I agree with you, always was apprehensive when I picked this one up, Puzo will be Puzo.... But to give due credit to Mark Wingardner, he has done a very decent job here and I made sure I can return the book post reading it. ;)

Anonymous said...

I hope I've beaten everyone in tagging you this time! :D


uunaashe said...


I read "1st ladies detective .." may be a year ago...". Nice one.

I like your writing style.

Even though I came to know about your blog couple of months ago (blog about Bangalore), I must have read about 50% of them by now (including comments)... :O).
I enjoy reading them so much.. Delayed many chores at home and work.

What happened to your plans about writing in Kannada ? Anything in near future ? Very eager to see your kannada writings too.

Shruthi said...

Srik: Oh you have read Moulin Rouge? That's cool! Its so sad, yet fascinating, right?

Ranjit: Oh no, Armstrong's autobio wasn't my reco... anyway now that you have mentioned it, ... mmm... interesting :)
Life of Pi? Shyamalan?? Shyamalan?? Life of Pi??? Now that should be one movie to watch out for!!

Ano: Wish I could just read and not do anything else ;)
As for the tag... Grrrr!! :) Will take it up, yes :)

Sachin: Ahhh yes :) Let's wait and watch, and hope too, of course!

Uunaashe: Thank you so much :) Am flattered! :)
Oh... writing in Kannada.... yes, maybe sometime when I find the time to maintain another blog! A blog takes a lot of time and commitment.... when I am sure I have more of that, I will start writing in Kannada!

Bhargav said...

See, I don't remember if it was a movie or a short tele serial about Miss Marple. I found it in the library with other movies. So I guessed it was a movie.

Ranjit Nair said...

Shuthi: Yes, Armstrong's autobiography is very, very good. Incredibly, portions of the book have you strongly rooting for him -he does succeed in making an underdog of himself, and for Lance Armstrong, that's some achievement alright!

Didn't you read that bit about Shyamalan visiting Pondi to make 'Life of Pi' etc? The twist is so very Shyamalan, I'd been relishing the movie. But he chose to go for the mermaid-thingy instead, which incidentally is drawing flak from all quarters now!

Shruthi said...

Bhargav: Oh ok, gotcha!

Ranjit: I am sorry, but I really am in a very "duh" state of mind - but does that mean he is going to make that movie sometime or the other, or has he given it up?

Ranjit Nair said...

Think he's given it up, sadly - at least, that's how I remember it. But it would be some movie, coming from Shayamalan !!

Shruthi said...

Ranjit: Ohhooo! :( Yes, it would have been a good movie indeed!

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

Havent read the books/don't intend to read them either... but nice reviews and nice posts, especially the one of 'tea' and 'white angel'...

Shruthi said...

Bishwanath: Thank you so much! :)

mysorean said...

Well, I guess I am going to run quite a credit card bill this time (Ref: Viky's "Untimely Resolutions" post) I enter Landmark or some such place.

Excellent Review Shruti! I hope to get my hands on the last three atleast. Since I have already read the first one!

Shruthi said...

Adi: :)) Thank you, Adi, and happy reading!

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