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 Catcher in the Rye

…by J. D. Salinger.

Holden Caulfield is a sixteen year old adolescent who narrates how he has reached where he currently is. It all begins with him being expelled from prep school, Pencey, for failing almost all his subjects. He decides to leave the premises after getting into a fight with his room-mate and feeling like no one understands him. All this about three days before the official leaving date. However, he doesn’t want his family to know yet that he has been expelled knowing that his mother in particular would be disappointed. Instead, he decides to go and stay in a hotel in New York. His adventures include drinking, smoking, refusing a hooker, setting up a date with girl he does not particularly like, all with disastrous endings. He is lonely, depressed and hates the phoniness around him. The only things he reminisces fondly about are his late brother Allie, his younger sister Phoebe and a girl he used to like (and probably still does), Jane.

I bought this book after hearing high praises about it and how it was a coming-of-age novel. Admittedly, I had high expectations. And unfortunately, the book didn’t meet those expectations. I got the themes of loneliness, alienation, hypocrisy of society and the fact that Holden most likely was clinically depressed but nobody seemed to know it. However, I just could not like him. He has got to be one of the most annoying characters and protagonists. I know depressed individuals are unable to see anything positive but his negativity was bloody draining. He kept referring to the phoniness of others and all the time I wanted to slap him on the head and tell him to get over himself. Because, by judging others as phoney, he came across that way too! I don’t know how it is a coming-of-age novel. In no way does it show me that his innocence was lost. He comes across as a whiny adolescent with too much money and too big for his boots. I have read other coming-of-age books and the loss of innocence where you really feel it (To Kill a Mockingbird, anyone?) but this one just did not do it for me. The writing style was also a bit frustrating with things ‘killing’ Holden and the ‘no kidding’ even in places you wouldn’t normally use it.

I don’t know if I’m missing something. I know others have rated it highly on Goodreads so I will be more than happy for you to comment on this and tell me why I am wrong!

I give it a rating of 2. The only reason it’s not a 1 is because it still touches on issues of mental health which are always close to my heart. However, lots of other authors have done a better job on that topic.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Lone Wolf

…by Jodi Picoult.

Lone Wolf is Jodi Picoult’s latest book. Luke Warren, a man who lived and cares for wolves, is in a car accident with his daughter Cara. The accident leaves him in a coma and Cara with a broken shoulder. His son Edward returns from Thailand at the request of his mother, Georgie (and Luke’s now ex-wife). Cara is praying for a miracle despite the doctors’ prognosis. Edward doesn’t think his father would want to live a life of an invalid given that he has been an adventurous man and thinks they should pull the plug. However, he has been estranged from his father for 6 years…can he really be the one to make a decision? At the same time, Cara, who has lived with her father for 4 years doesn’t really have a say given she is still a minor at 17 years and 9 months.  Now they have to battle it out: should they keep Luke alive or should they let him go?

In true Jodi Picoult style, we get to see the perspectives of almost all the characters including Joe, Georgie’s second husband, Helen, a guardian appointed by the court, and Luke himself in the form of chapters from his book. As always, the reader is torn. Who do you go with? Cara makes a damn good case for her father. But then, Edward’s reasons make sense too. You find yourself sympathising and agreeing with different characters on different instances. The wolves are a metaphor for family as well. And while Luke Warren is a man who understand wolves, you wonder whether he ever understood the importance of family. Picoult makes you have moral dilemmas yet again with her latest installment. When is right to let someone go especially given some people miraculously do recover? Is it right to voluntarily end a person’s life when they aren’t necessarily brain dead and their heart is still beating? All this and so much more makes for a good and interesting read.

I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

A Cupboard full of Coats

…by Yvvette Edwards.

Jinx is a 30 year old adult woman still grappling with memories of her mother’s brutal murder fourteen years ago. The grief and the guilt consume her every core, while the memories of her childhood continue to damage her adult relationships as well as her relationship with her own child. Things change with the arrival of Lemon. A ‘family friend’ she hasn’t seen for fourteen years. He wants to talk about the night of the murder following having talked to Jinx’s mother’s murderer. Lemon’s friend and her mother’s partner, Berris. And he is unwilling to leave until he tells her everything and hears everything she has to say. Despite trying her best to avoid talking about that night for years, Jinx is made to recount those memories and is at risk of another breakdown. However, at the same time, could this be her chance at redemption?

  This debut novel by Yvvette Edwards is powerful and heart-breaking. It evokes images that are unimaginable to most. As Jinx and Lemon remember the past, we learn about what culminates to her mother’s ultimate end. The violence that her mother encountered at the hands of the man she loved. All in the name of ‘love’. Jinx’s confusion about her mother’s behaviour as a 16 year old is extremely believeable. Why would a woman endure that abuse? Why would a woman subject herself to the blows of a man? Why wouldn’t she just get rid of the man? Especially when there was no reason to depend on him! The turmoil and emotions are so powerful that you hurt with Jinx and her mother. The cycle of domestic violence is portrayed perfectly. The beatings. The remorse. The gifts. In the form of expensive coats. The acceptance. It is incredibly sad. And even sadder to see how it messes up a person’s life later. A child’s life. The guilt a child can hold. And yet, at the same time, it is hopeful.

This beautifully written novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. I’m amazed it didn’t get shortlisted or even win! I give it a rating of 5 and highly recommend it!

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Broken Glass Park

…by Alina Bronsky.

Narrated by seventeen year old Sascha Naiman, this book reads as her journal as she goes through life after her mother is killed. Born in Russia, Sascha now lives in Germany with her two younger siblings and a relative who is their guardian. The story beings with Sascha pointing out that she has two dreams – one is to kill her stepfather, who murdered her mother and her mother’s lover, and the other is to write a book about her mother. And from there the book goes on as a chronicle of Sascha’s life as she takes care of her siblings, goes to school, and tries to live with that grudge against her stepfather who is now in prison.

The book is a journey into a teenager’s life as she’s trying to get over a tragedy, while being there for what is left of her family. Sascha’s voice is very engaging…she lets the reader get into her mind slowly but steadily; yet, keeping herself closed to a certain extent, so as to leave the reader wanting more. She sheds light on the past every now and then, narrating all those events from the past leading up to her mother’s murder. She pours out her anger, builds a bubble around herself to keep her from getting close to anyone.

What I liked most about the book was the depth of Sascha’s character. Even after the nightmare of a past, she emerges as a strong and smart personality. And a very accurate portrayal of what goes on in her mind just adds to how easily a reader is able to relate to that character. On the other hand, the powerful beginning lead me to want an equally compelling end, but for some reason it all fell very flat after a point, and that’s where I was left disappointed.

Overall, this realistic and touching story about a teenager with a brutal past is worth a read.

My rating: 3*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

Let the Rain Kiss You

by Vibha Vyas

The prologue of the book suggests that it might just be a true story. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were! This book narrates a very compelling tale. Even if the incidents seem a tad extreme , they are definitely not unheard of. The first triumph of this book is its story. It is what we have experienced or heard in neighborhood gossip. It is what we have seen happen elsewhere , what is depicted as the background of the 80’s Bollywood movies. The story lays bare the practices we think ( or hope) are no longer a part of the society. The connection one feels to the story is a huge plus point.

The Sahni family are a set of survivors right from the grandmother who is virtually the head of the family. Her escape during the partition and the resultant communal hate are very natural and we applaud her for her determination. Until one sees her from the eyes of the daughter-in-law. Suddenly the blackness in her character is evident. Such is the case with most of the characters in the book. At many places it is up to the reader to judge the validity and sometimes even the sanity of their words and actions. The son who favors his mother , the vanity of girl’s beauty and the yearning to have a baby boy are all recurring themes in the book.

Even though you know the fate of the characters when you begin with the story , you will still be very curious to find out why things turned out to be what they were .How a well meaning , well-groomed huge family was brought to its knees by their  own actions makes for a good read. It is definitely a page turner.

The story very clearly tells us that incidents are not a cause for distress but one’s perspective is what colors the significance of events happening around us. Cruel fate hits everybody and it hits the Sahni family too. But instead of accepting what they cannot change, the members end up dissatisfied and live in denial of facts. This causes a lot of friction between them and even “Biji”‘s little superstition that rain is a bad omen for the family. Hence the title of the book.

The author is an MBA graduate who is a fiction writer. She has done a reasonably good job of narrating this story. But sadly I have to point out that proper grammar and proper distinction between the passive and active voices would have made it an even more memorable book. The cover art is really drab and I could not even find a good picture to upload!

But I would still recommend you to read this story. It definitely holds your attention and gives you something to think about.

My rating 3*.