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.

 

James and the Giant Peach

…by Roald Dahl.

At the age of four, James Henry Trotter is orphaned and sent to live with his aunts Spiker and Sponge. Once he lives with his mean aunts, James’ life changes from the fun and idyllic times with his parents. His aunts are mean and nasty and put James to work. James leads a miserable life for about 3 years until he experiences something incredible. He meets a strange man who gives him a bag with thousand litte green things in it…magical things which are going to help James not feel miserable any more. Alas! James in his excitement, drops the bag and sees all the green things get sucked into the soil. However, when he wakes up the next morning, something strange is in store for him. A peach tree, that has never borne any peaches, has started to grow one. And it’s no ordinary peach. Rather it is a gigantic one. And when James looks at it at night, he finds an opening into the peach and meets the most unusual creatures in there — a Grasshopper, a Centipede, an Earthworm, a Ladybird, a Spider, a Glowworm and a Silkworm. All giants themselves. And waiting for James to join them. And thus, they embark on the most amazing journey and adventures as the peach leaves the garden.

This book by Dahl brought back memories of my Enid Blyton reading days. There was an essence of strange lands and strange people. With animals and creatures taking a human role, it was very much like the wonderful stories I enjoyed as a child. And the adventures…oh the adventures…they are brilliant! You find yourself smiling through most of the book once the group embarks on their journey. And there are moments of strife where you hold your breath. All in all, a brilliant children’s book by Dahl! I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

George’s Marvellous Medicine

…by Roald Dahl.

George Kranky lives with his parents Mr and Mrs Kranky and his maternal Grandma. Unlike most grandmas, George’s Grandma is a mean and nasty old lady who only thinks about herself and wants all the attention. Nothing is good enough for this grumpy, grumbling, grouchy lady. And so George decides to teach her a lesson. By making a concoction of his own medicine to replace the one she normally has. This medicine is made of ingredients lying all around the house. And the consequences are surprising! As Dahl warns kids in the beginning, Do not make this at home!

Once again, this is a creatively woven story that appeals to the rule-breaker in all of us! I’m sure we all go through phases where we don’t like someone and wish we could teach them  a lesson. Through George, we all get to live this! Once again, I am amazed at Dahl’s creative genius. He is able to get into a child’s mind so perfectly. Once again, a book I would recommend for you to read to your kids. Or with them. Or to read yourself and re-visit your childhood!

I rate it a 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

The Twits

…by Roald Dahl.

Mr and Mrs Twit are two disgusting individuals. Mr Twit has a long shaggy beard and Mrs Twit has an ugly face due to a lifetime of being nasty and having nasty thoughts. They smell. They don’t wash. They fight. They play tricks on one another. They hate children. They trap birds to eat. And they have a family of four monkeys caged in their backyard to do their bidding. Eventually, the monkeys (Mugglewump and family) with the help of the Roly-Poly Bird and other birds get their revenge on the Twits in a very amusing way…giving them a taste of their own nasty medicine!

This is possibly the funniest Dahl book I’ve read so far and you can bet kids are going to love it. His description of the Twits, particularly Mr Twit is so disgustingly hilarious, you can practically hear kids squealing with delight and disgust. And his insight into some human characteristics is quite amazing. I loved his description of Mrs Twit as being ugly but not because she was born ugly. Rather, as Dahl puts it “If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face” [p. 7]. And following that is a beautiful description of how a light shines out of a person with good thoughts despite physically not being attractive. I think it’s a wonderful thing to teach kids — that beauty is from within! And a special mention must be made to the illustrator Quentin Blake as well. His pictures are pretty funny and add to sensational writing. Finally, Dahl’s creativity shines through once again with terms such as ‘Muggle-wump’, ‘Hugtight glue’, Roly-Poly bird and a few others. It’s a brilliant book for a laugh…even as an adult!

I rate it a 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Switch Bitch

…by Roald Dahl.

Switch Bitch is a collection of short stories with the central theme of sex and erotica. If you are a bit prudish, don’t let that put you off the book. Do read on.

The first short story is The Visitor which features one of Dahl’s character’s Uncle Oswald who is known for his sexual escapades with several women. Here, Uncle Oswald finds himself to be an unexpected guest at the mansion of Mr Aziz during his travels in Egypt. As he spends the night flirting with both the wife and daughter of Mr Aziz, he believes he has won them over. And he does get a visit in the night but is unable to tell who it is…

The second story is The Great Switcheroo which is a daring attempt by two married men to switch places in order to sleep with the other’s wife. The planning, the precision and the risk involved are all too great. Does it work out? And can anyone actually win a risky game such as this?

The third story, The Last Act, has as its main protagonist a woman who has lost her husband of many years in a car accident. As she contemplates ending her own life, she is caught up in work which gives her meaning. She reignites contact with an ex-beau but then ending of this contact is one completely unexpected to her. And to the reader.

Finally, the last story, Bitch, also features Uncle Oswald. In this story a scientist attempts to create a scent that will result in a man reacting like a dog when it sees a bitch in heat. However, with such a dangerous scent, the outcome surely cannot be a positive one. Especially when it already involves the incorrigible Uncle Oswald!

All in all, the stories are fascinating with brilliant twists in the end. The consequence of falling prey to lust without thinking of the aftermath is portrayed beautifully without any judgement in all four stories. While the characters may not stand out much (apart from Uncle Oswald), the plots are ingenious and filled with dark humour. Once again, having never read Dahl’s work for adults, I found myself mesmerised enough to read this in one sitting. I would highly recommend this book and give it a rating of 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

A Fraction of the Whole

…by Steve Toltz.

This is a massive 700 page debut novel by author Steve Toltz and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Meet the Deans. As Jasper Dean starts off “The fact is, the whole of Australia despises my father more than any other man, just as they adore my uncle more than any other man. I might as well set the story straight about both of them…”

That statement should give you a hint of the ride you are in for as a reader.

With his father, Martin Dean now dead, Jasper tries to make sense of him while writing from gaol for a reason unknown to readers. Villain or hero? Crazy or sane? He tries to understand some of his father’s schemes to try and make the world a better place. There is one main concern that plagues Jasper: is he going to end up being crazy like his father? Throughout his father’s life, Jasper did his best to keep his distance to avoid the lunacy but at the same time, appeared to have a bond with him. After all, his father tended to have good intentions to begin with but with catastrophic consequences.

Martin Dean was a difficult, paranoid and intelligent man during his time alive. He spent about four years as a child in a coma and once out of it, felt disconnected from the world and outwardly philosophical. All Martin wanted to do was leave his mark behind in this world. And trouble began when people started listening to him. Martin’s sanity is questioned throughout the book. The uncle adored by the whole of Australia, Terry Dean, was a sporting hero in his younger days and a criminal later when plagued by injury. But a Ned Kelly type vigilante who was out to get all the sporting cheats. And hence, looked at as a hero. However, Terry is eventually captured and presumed to have died in a bushfire that ravaged the prison.

Jasper takes us on this rollercoaster journey through his father’s and uncle’s lives (narrated at times by Martin) and his father’s crazy adventures, how his father comes up with a way of making everyone in Australia a millionaire, gets married to his childhood sweetheart becomes the prime minister, then becomes the most hated man in the country, flees the country with Jasper to Thailand and his own story of jetting off to Europe to search for his absent mother’s past.

All in all, it’s a fun read and keeps you hooked to know more about the characters. It has its laugh out loud moments and its “you-can’t-be-serious” ones too. It’s a riot and one hell of a ride! A great achievement by a debutante. About Australia. About being able to not take yourself too seriously. And about craziness and lunacy of human beings. And how in life, in the end, there are only a few important people who matter. I would give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***This review has been cross-posted on my personal blog***

The Vague Woman’s Handbook

… by Devapriya Roy

I first noticed this book in my neighbourhood book store. Fresh new copies were on the shelf. My first impression was it must be a new time pass book by another new author. I have had some bad reading experience with some new authors. The cover art looked light and on a whim I picked the book.

I got immersed in the story of the two protagonists. Sharmila Mukherjee and Indira Sen are two different strata of women. In fact Sharmila or Mil is still a girl. Newly wed Mil is proudly living with her husband, while the long-widowed Indira is an outwardly mature Government officer. They meet in the offices of Academy of literature. And become fast friends. The unlikely friendship blossoms to a great extent, bringing solutions to many problems and great companionship.There is also the very immature but cute love of Mil and her husband Abhi, Indira’s dominating mother, Abhi and Mil’s uncompromising parents, the nosy neighbors and insufferable house owners too!

The beauty of the book lies in the dynamics of the different relations described in the book, estranged mother-child, not-enough-space mother-child, the newly married lovers, the college friends. All of these relationships are described and built to the reader with utmost care. The author puts forth incidents that test these relations and shows us that the relationships deserve to exist and will stand every test. The love of a young couple, the frustration of living frugally in expensive Delhi, the pain after fights, all these leave the reader with a lot of warmth towards the characters. Both the women are slight scatter brains, Mil not possessing minimal direction sense and Indira being prone to apathic Credit card spending. This definitely helps the women to identify themselves very easily with the characters. Even with their flaws they lead very fulfilling lives. There is no drama in what the author writes. The problems faced by these women are hard ones. They don’t have miraculous solutions but over time with some determination and support, they all overcome their problems, managing to get a few laughs out of them and even managing to allow themselves happy endings.

As for the writing, I enjoyed it immensely. The writer is such an imaginative person and the best part is that she can so easily translate that to the written word. The imagery she builds up to describe all the situations and the surroundings is so beautiful that I fell in love with the writing. The fact that I finished the book in one night is itself a testimonial to that.

My only gripe is that though the cover art is interesting, it does not portray the women as described in the book. Hope that changes in the next reprint!

Excellent read. My rating 5*