Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lisey's Story by Stephen King (10/10)

Reading 'Lisey's Story' was like coming home!

I'm a huge fan of Stephen King. I've read all his novels and absolutely adore his writing. Before 'Lisey's Story', when I extolled King’s writing, I used many adjectives to describe his writing - amazing, wonderful, brilliant... but never 'Great'. Its not a word I use lightly and it didn't seem right to use the word 'Great' then. Now I know why. It wasn't yet time…

I was waiting for 'Lisey's Story'.

This is the book that places King firmly among the writing greats. A book that confirms what all his previous books had promised. All the other books that he's written before gave a hint of what he was capable of, promised something spectacular to come, they brushed greatness without ever actually touching it. But with 'Lisey's Story' he has achieved greatness. A book that leaves no doubt at all that this man has reached the peak of his craft!

A deeply touching, moving, heartbreakingly beautiful gem of a book. A book where he has reached new, stunning heights of narration that I never imagined could even exist. You know a writer is at the peak of his powers when he can narrate not 1, not 2, not 3, but 5, COUNT IT!!! 5! stories concurrently. And then goes on to link them emotionally, linguistically, geographically and meteorologically; by words, actions, feelings, emotions, weather and geography. UNBELIEVABLE, and yet accomplished flawlessly by King. The final proof of his utter mastery of his craft.

(A book so good, in fact, that it surprised even its own author. In his own words, “It's like surfers and the seventh wave. You ride six waves that are O.K., and then the seventh one is really great. But with every seventh wave, you mess up the ride, so really it's only every 49th wave that's really a great, great wave, and I felt that way with Lisey. I'm not saying that it's deathless prose, or it's a classic, but I'm saying that I'm surprised I had this book in me. It's a lucky book.”)

A Stephen King book is never just about the story. Mostly because the story is extremely straightforward - an adolescent girl, a rabid dog, a haunted hotel… simple things with a touch of the supernatural. The magic is in the telling of this straightforward story. And in 'Lisey's Story' the way he conjures up a masterpiece from a simple tale of a widow coming to terms with the death of her husband is mind-blowing.

'Lisey's Story' talks in the present and in the past, through the living and through the dead, goes forwards and goes backwards, and at times recounts events through several layers of time (a memory today, calling up a memory 10 years back, which in turn calls up a memory 17 years before that…literally bending time!)

The narrative technicalities aside, what really makes this book a masterpiece is the tenderness that this so-called purveyor of horror manages to convey - constantly touching your heart, bringing a tear to your eye with his words. Love at its simplest, most powerful and most tender with an economy of words that leaves you speechless. Proving over and over that you don't need big words or complex turns of phrase to touch readers' hearts. All you need is to be honest in your writing and you can tug at the heartstrings of your readers. Writing thats so simple, and yet, so heartbreakingly tender.

At its heart this is a love story: love between a husband and wife, love between brothers going through hell together, love between sisters, and above-all love between a very sick father and his terrified sons. Different forms but always love in its purest form, infinitely tender and so intense that it threatens to explode from the pages.

I could go on and on with the superlatives. But I won't. I'll only say that I'm glad of the day I picked up my first King novel and thank King to have written such a wonderful, wonderful tale. I can say without any exaggeration whatsoever that I consider myself fortunate to have read this book.

Thank you, Mr King, for your writing! And thanks for Lisey!

Everything the same…

Thursday, May 17, 2012


What do you say about a writer who is brilliant at his work, but uses it to highlight and exaggerate the negative aspects of life? I say its a shame. Its a shame that someone with Salman Rushdie's exceptional writing skills can't employ them in constructive writing. Instead, he chooses to write about the problems in the societies he used to inhabit. This most depressing aspect of his writing is most evident in this book, titled quite aptly, Shame.

The book is an encyclopedia of everything that could be wrong in life. It seems to challenge all concepts of decency and goodness in men (& women). By the end of the book, you lose all hope in mankind. Rushdie seems to delight in pointing out everything that is wrong with the world. There is a fine line between realism and championing negativity, and Rushdie crosses it far too often in this book.

I firmly believe that art's main purpose is not to reflect reality, not to show humankind and society the way it is, but rather the way that it should be. An idealization of life. To portray the best that we can be. This is the reason I love Michelangelo's sculptures & paintings. They show man as he should be - strong, proud and flawless. That most beautiful of human creations, the Sistine Chapel, shows you the heights man can reach at his most inspired best. But I digress.

What I'm trying to say is that Rushdie's endless tirade betrays the purpose of art. Instead of showing what could be, Rushdie tells us what was, and how disguting it was. Instead of talking about what should be, he talks about everything that should never be. Its not just a reminder of the evils perpetrated by some people, but a magnification of these until you feel that its all that mankind is capable of. What purpose does it serve, I wonder? Besides reminding the smug literary-elite that eastern society is messed-up. A most disappointing & depressing book!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shalimar the Clown

A slow, ponderous and plodding narrative!

This is a book that is ostentatiously about the transformation of a Kashmiri stage performer into a vengeful assassin, but ends up being about too many things. The plot is the scorned love of the protagonist and his Kashmiri dancer wife. An American ambassador to India, an illegitimate daughter (named India), and the consequent murder of the ambassador by Shalimar The Clown, complete the plotline. In between, while giving a remarkable insight into the Kashmiri way of life, which sadly includes the terrorist camps operating at the Kashmir border, we see how Shalimar goes from being a fun-loving, talented gymnast to becoming a brutal, inhuman killing machine.

The story has many potential winning points, but there are so many sidetracks in the narrative that its very difficult to remain invested in the actual story. The author seems confused about the purpose of this book - is it a description of the Kashmir conflict, is it scorned love, is it obsessions, is it the pitfalls of ambition, or is it communal politics? In the end, apparenty unable to decide among those choices, he decides to talk about a little bit of all the above. And so, for pages on end, the actual story is put aside while the author expounds on all manner of subjects. Not surprisingly, this leads to a very disjointed narrative.

I believe that the main purpose of a fictional book should be the telling of a story. And if, through the telling of this story, you throw light on real-life subjects, issues or philosophies, its an added plus; but the story should at all times remain the focal point of the book. This book spectacularly fails to do that. And so it is very difficult to retain interest or any kind of continuity in the narrative.

Of course, considering that the writer is actually a genius, there are inevitable flashes of brilliance, like this line : "you never know the answers to the questions of life until you are asked". But such lines are few and far apart, and ultimately unable to redeem the book.

Not one of Rushdie's better works.