The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Book Review

Ravi Kapoor, a London based doctor is fed up of this Father-in-law, Norman and his absurd, vulgar, dirty ways. Overworked and frustrated, he feels life will be much better when his FIL is out of the way. Good news comes in the form of his distant cousin, Sonny, who works up a business partnership plan for both of them – a retirement home in Bangalore, India. With profit comes freedom from Norman. Ravi is excited about the plan – a new energy fed into him. His wife, Pauline, objects but realizes that if her father doesn’t go away, Ravi will.

And thus, Best Exotic Hotel Marigold comes into existence. A mottled bunch of widows, widowers, divorcees and elderly couples come together to put this retirement home into full action. Evelyn is an observer and the most amicable person around. Norman has managed to become a pain in everyone’s neck here too. Chain smoker Madge is looking for a rich Maharaja who can be her last and final partner. Muriel is aggrieving her son’s disappearance and resorts to ancient Hindu spiritual rituals to reunite with her son. Jean and Douglas have been married for 47 years and are busy exploring the city on foot. Add in Evelyn’s cowardly son Christopher and confused daughter Theresa, the hotel’s manager Mr. C and his fierce, aggressive, tantrum-throwing wife, the hotel’s head bearer Jimmy and other recurring characters like the mali, the legless beggar outside the hotel, the call center kids and other resident members and you get a funny, thought provoking sometimes confusing tale of how old Brit people take to a country like India.

The individual stories build up well – how and why each individual lands up at the hotel. And you want to know how each of them ends up. But I really wonder why anyone would leave their country and come to a strange land (that too, an underdeveloped country like India) to spend their last days? Especially people who have lived in Britain for their whole lives!

India is shown in a poor light many times – for example, the kids at the call center want to know how Britain is like. There is poverty and garbage all over. People are desperate and funny. Not to mention, the famous spiritual beliefs and practices. But several times, the Indian hospitality, good nature and warmth are appreciated.

Part 3, which contains climax and conclusions, is a big letdown. Unexpected people couple up in the end. People die and separate suddenly. There are so many loose ends. Characters change behaviors like it’s no one’s business. Overall, the story can be perceived as superficial.

I was disappointed. I was expecting more deep rooted emotions and innate conversations given that the story is about elderly people, coming together to spend their last days in a spiritual, stimulating country like India. Instead, there are shallow performances and frivolous thoughts.

The book did manage to hold my attention on a long flight; I finished it in one go. But I would only rate it 2 on 5.

 

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Hold Still Book Review

Author: Nina LaCour

I almost forced myself to pick up this YA book (after SPOLAFS disaster). Initially, I even had difficulty in hanging on to it. 227 pages should take not more than 3 days to complete but I took more than a week. Actually, when I got hooked on to it, I finished it in one go.

This book is about Caitlin’s life after her best friend, Ingrid, commits suicide. Caitlin feels a void in her life; she misses the last part of her school year and refuses to talk to anyone. She has no friends except Ingrid and now that Ingrid isn’t around, Caitlin does all she can to cut herself away from the world (for example, by spending evenings and nights in the old family car). She doesn’t even know how to make friends. Then she finds Ingrid’s journal under her bed – 3 months after her friend took her life. Ingrid tells her secrets through the diary and surprises Caitlin with hidden thoughts and feelings that Caitlin had no idea about. What does Ingrid say? How does Caitlin cope up with the void? How does she finally face the world?

Hold Still is less about coping up with suicide and more about self-discovery. It’s about how Caitlin finds herself. It is her delightful journey of discovering things – first love, circle of friends, confidence, friendship with her parents, real passion. Even little things as her favourite coffee. We see Caitlin change from an immature, socially awkward and stubborn kid to a grown-up almost-adult.

The book spells out little details about everything. How Caitlin dresses up, what things clutter around her room, what she eats, little things she and Ingrid used to talk about, how her new friends look like, the 100 feelings that go through Caitlin when she reads the journal. These minor details don’t lengthen the story; only make the whole story make-believe and very, very real. Throughout, I felt it going on in my mind like a film reel.

The story also has delightful characters – Caitlin’s kind, supportive parents, Caitlin’s new friends – Dylan and Maddy, Caitlin’s love – Taylor, Ingrid’s crush and Taylor’s best friend – Jayson and Caitlin’s photography teacher – Veena Delani. All these characters are pieces that constitute and complete Caitlin’s life.

This book is very mature for a YA because this deals with delicate topics like suicide and it’s after effects on people. The author (who incidentally is also gay) has brought in a lesbian couple in the story, included lot of quotes on moving on, guilt, friendship and death and introduced symbolic elements to dramatize the story. And oh, she did it all so well. Ingrid’s intense diary entries are very moving. On a lighter note, the entry titled ‘Dear Rain Clouds’ (pg 115), where she describes her puppy love feeling for Jayson is so damn cute!

I was initially unsettled by Caitlin’s extreme attachment with Ingrid. I find it difficult to accept a person’s sole dependency on another. Though, this aspect was taken care of later on in the book when Caitlin starts moving on with her life by making more friends and doing things she loves.

The fact that in the last chapter she deserts the diary probably hints that she has moved on for a better life.

I will give this book a 4 on 5.

This is Nina LaCour’s debut novel. Read more about her on her blog. Also, see this interesting book trailer.

The Sense of an Ending

…by Julian Barnes.

The winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize begins with 60 year old Tony Webster, the narrator, reflecting back on his life. He remembers his school days where he, Alex and Colin, a trio welcomed a fourth person — Adrian Finn. Adrian as Tony remembers, was a gifted and philosophical young man. And the three friends found themselves drawn to him a lot more than they were to even each other. As they grow up and go on to university, Tony gets into a relationship with Veronica and his recollections of her are not very positive. He eventually has a fall out with Adrian who, after the end of Tony and Veronica’s relationship, ends up dating her. Tony remembers his life as being pretty ordinary — he had a stable job, was married once, divorced, has a child and now a grandchild.

However, Tony’s mundane life is shaken when he  receives a letter from a solicitor where he has been left a modest sum of 500 pounds and a diary written by Adrian Finn. These have been left to him in a will by Veronica’s mother, a woman he met once. As Tony tries to track down the missing diary, he gets back in touch with Veronica and realises his memories about himself may not be accurate. He realises how he was responsible for things he never took responsibility for and attempts to seek redemption. It eventually culminates to a final twist that leaves the reader quite shocked and surprised.

It is a book about how as we near the end of our lives, looking back at it, we may not be so accurate. However, the sense of that ending helps us seek redemption and be remorseful for what we may have done. There is always that chance. It doesn’t necessarily mean we will be forgiven. But generally, things aren’t as they seem. This book is a short one (150 pages) and can be read pretty quickly. The first person narrator is easy to identify and empathise with. And the plot is definitely intriguing. There is just the right amount of suspense and subtleties that keep the reader hooked. All in all, I would recommend this book.

I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

The Boat

…by Nam Le.

‘The Boat’ is a collection of 7 short stories of individuals across the globe. The author is a Vietnamese-born Australian who also spends his time in America. His stories are not just of Vietnamese or Australians but rather of different ethnic groups across different countries. There is the struggling author and his difficult relationship with his Vietnamese father; a hitman in Colombia who is just a teenager and his struggles with having to kill his friend; an aging painter and his relationship with an estranged daughter; the young Aussie teenager at Halfhead Bay; the American woman struggling with her friendship in Iran; and finally, a group of Vietnamese people on The Boat escaping war-torn Vietnam and the trials and tribulations faced by one young girl estranged from her family.

The stories all revolve around characters facing some kind of pressure in their lives and attempting to deal with these whilst trying to attain some form of control. Two stories that stood out for me were ‘Cartagena’ and ‘The Boat’. The former is the one with the teenage hitman in Colombia and the emotions and struggles kept me on edge all the way through. The latter, which is the last story in the book, is about the “boat people” escaping Vietnam and looking for better lives but at the same time, taking extreme measures to get there. In many ways, it was heart-wrenching. Especially in this day when there is a big deal being made about people arriving on Australian shores by boat, it gives us an insight into the difficulties faced to get here.

There were other stories though that didn’t grip me as much…they seemed to have great beginnings but faltered somewhere. I think it was more about the characters than the plots themselves.

All in all, a decent read. I give it a rating of 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Adrift – A Junket Junkie in Europe

— by Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu

Before beginning the review, I have to say that this is my very first travel journal. I have read travel anecdotes and accounts on blogs all over the internet, but I had not read such an extensive journal till date.

My first reaction after reading this book was simple awe and a decided kinship! It is amazing that this author can pack up her bags and leave to the most favored destinations of the world trusting a shoestring budget and a bunch of relatives & friends. I am yet to go alone on a trip anywhere! And she managed most of Europe on her own. She is living my dream and I have to applaud her for this.

I started this book not knowing what to expect, but the author has managed to move me with detailed accounts of all her destinations. She has devoted a chapter each to significant places of visit. Mostly following a pattern, she begins by introducing her hosts in that place, all of them old friends or relatives. She then briefly describes her accommodation conditions and then launches into an extensive narration of the history, nuances, culture, people and cuisine of each of the places. And being a self-professed foodie, she describes the culinary delights of the place with mouth-watering descriptions! She effectively captures the core attraction of the place through her experience of it and feelings towards it.

As much as the book is about Europe, it is also about the author. Her personality and preferences shine through her words. Without being too narcissistic, she manages to balance the information and her own personal feelings towards these destinations. We gather from her journal that she is a seasoned traveller and not a mere tourist. It is not her job to go to catalogued places and take pictures , live in expensive resorts and wind up a trip. She is determined to soak in the experience of a particular place. By meeting its people, by eating the signature dishes, participating in the local events and in general by enjoying herself thoroughly!
The journey through Europe for Puneet starts by the discovery of a ticket that was gifted to her long time ago. Some rummaging around found her a couple of relatives in Germany and UK. So she gathers her essentials, scrapes some money together and sets off on the trip. With her determination to not delegate herself to being a tourist, our happy traveller sets a few ground rules for herself. She does break a few of them but under pressing circumstances. Her wit and humour are a part of her writing too. She also manages to sufficiently convey her sympathy when she visits places with unfortunate history like the house where Anne Frank’s family hid from the Gestapo. She parties hard and fully exploits the delights of places like Amsterdam. She finds the best of eateries in Paris, bicycles through the plains of Sweden and even manages to travel on a train in Paris without a ticket! Though not many misadventures, except a near escape from a customs officer and a bad movie experience, her other happenings are thrilling enough for somebody who truly would love to go to Europe!

I was a bit put off by some of the writing though. Though I do applaud her vocabulary, the book consisted of one too many unnecessary words. Also some of the complex sentences were not well formed and it is real hindrance to read a sentence multiple times, distracting the reader from the real intent of the book. Also, I was amused to find British influences in her writing. The trip really seems to have had an impact on her! Looking over other aspects of presentations, I have to say, the cover art of the book really did its job by capturing the mood.

All in all the book is an excellent ride through Europe. I thoroughly envy the author for her spirit and independence. Still I hope she goes to more places and documents more of her travels for me to read!

My Rating 4/5
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Faces in the Clouds

…by Matt Nable.

Meet Stephen and Lawrence Kennedy. Twins. Born and brought up in the army barracks with their dad Sargent Terry Kennedy and god-fearing mother, Leila Kennedy. Although they are twins, they couldn’t be more different. Lawrence is intellectually disabled while Stephen is not. Stephen tries to battle with his thoughts about resenting some of Lawrence’s behaviour while at the same time loving his brother very much. On the whole though, these two boys enjoy their lives in the barracks with their friends, particularly Katie Monahan and Johnny Birch.

However, their worlds are turned upside down when their parents die in a car crash and both Stephen and Lawrence are sent to live with people they barely know — Helen and Nathan Williams. The journey for the twins continues as they each deal with their grief and other tragedies, sibling rivalry and how they move through adolescence and finally into adulthood.

I really enjoyed this book and the pace at which it covered more than a decade in the lives of Stephen and Lawrence. The unimaginable tragedy of losing one’s parents as a child and having to live with complete strangers was heart-wrenching. And then, to still have burdens placed on them is just another layer to this. But despite the tragedies and the past, the book looks at how they deal with it in their own way and manage to live in the present and dream for the future. It looks at life, love, friendships and relationships and how one deals with adversity. More so, it shows that despite the challenges life throws at you, it makes you a stronger person. The characters of Stephen and Lawrence are both very realistic and likeable. Nable hasn’t exaggerated the intellectual disability and the frustrations that Stephen goes through are very understandable.

To sum it up, life can suck. But it’s a ride nevertheless. And as long as you pick yourself up, you can move on.

It is a bitter-sweet book to the very end and definitely keeps you hooked.

I rate it a 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This has been cross posted on my personal blog

Family Album

…by Penelope Lively.

Set in Allersmead, an Edwardian house in England, this story revolves around the lives of the members of the family that lived in that house. Alison, the mother – who always dreamed of being a mother and nurturing her children. Charles, the father – who is emotionally unavailable, locked in his study concentrating his time on his work (writing books). Ingrid, the au pair – who lives with the family in the house lending a helping hand to raise the children. And then the children – Paul, Gina, Katie, Roger, Sandra and Clare.

Allersmead – what was once a home that nourished six children has now become a place where only the parents and the au pair live with the children visiting occasionally.

Paul, the eldest, leads a nomadic life of sorts…switching from one job to another, with not much of a personal life to show for either. Gina is a journalist, has a career with a TV news channel. Sandra starts off as a fashion correspondent with a magazine, but later in her life moves on to managing a boutique in Rome while trying her hands on property development. Katie graduates with a degree in English and moves to the US. Roger, who has always been interested in biology, becomes a pediatrician in Canada. And Clare becomes a professional dancer.

The book starts off with Gina bringing her boyfriend Philip to her childhood home. While all that Philip can say is how exotic a family with six children must have been growing up, Gina slowly points out how it is not all that interesting after all. The story goes forward with flashbacks into the childhood years through the eyes of the six children. With time, the readers are let into a dark secret that is kept in the family…a secret that everybody knows of, yet no one talks about. On the whole, the book, with episodes of past and the present, sheds light on the lives of the family members.

What I really liked about the book is the realistic undertone that it has to it. No family is perfect…yet to someone from the outside things look greener than where they stand. A big family house. So many siblings to keep one another company. A mother who dotes on her children. A writer for a father. An au pair. – that’s all the outsiders get to see, while it is the children who really know and have lived through the ups and downs of what that sort of a family life brings. The ones closely involved are the ones that know what makes up this family other than what meets the naked eye.

Also, the theme of the book focuses on how more than the experience in itself, it is what a person gets out of it / how a person reacts to it that makes for a good/bad memory. Even though the six children grew up in the same house, with the same parents, they each have had different experiences that have shaped their lives. What a child takes from any incident, how same thing happening to two people can be interpreted in two different ways is portrayed.

The book had its flaws too. For one, the deep dark secret the author talks about isn’t that much of a secret at all. I put a pin on it the first time a hint to it is mentioned in the passing. So, when the secret is actually revealed, it didn’t come as so much a shock to me. I guess in a way it didn’t bother me much that I deciphered the family secret early on because that helped with keeping up with the practical portrayal of issues rather than something over the top. Other than that, a couple of the characters were a little hard to connect with…but then I won’t complain much about it because it didn’t take away from the beauty of the book.

The language and the tone of the book couldn’t have been better. The author’s description of people, places, situations, etc. were all impeccable. It didn’t take much effort on my part as a reader to put together the visuals for the scene or characters…the writing took care of that. The author has a graceful style to her writing…I will be sure to read more books by her just for the way she writes.

Overall, this insightful study of family and relationships and a genuine portrayal of the same, is a good read.

My rating: 4*.

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