Thursday, June 29, 2006

Beckham retains metrosexual ardor

True, his standing in the ongoing World Cup has been marred by claims of non-performance. True also that he has been able to rescue his pride by ensuring England a berth in the last eight. But more than anything else, more than his "bending the ball" or his prowess on the field, what will go down as essential Beckhamania is the perfect grooming that David never ever backs out on. Consider this Ronaldo statement:

The Brazilian star Ronaldo put his finger on it after Brazil beat England in the last World Cup, in 2002, and he and Beckham exchanged shirts.

"Normally when you swap shirts, especially after a game in the heat like that, they absolutely stink and are soaked in sweat," Ronaldo said. "So it was a surprise, to say the least, that Beckham's shirt smelled only of perfume."

When I read this, I laughed out loud, for I had begun to genuinely feel sorry for the guy. I feared that all the criticism might get to him and he might shun his metrosexual ways for the rigors of Football-dom. But trust David to belie expectations!

p.s. Finished The Accidental this morning. Continuing in the vein of my earlier post, the book can ultimately be described as a mature work of self-realisation and life moving around in circles to return us to times and themes which we think we have escaped, but never really do. Let me not reveal the ending here, which is smart and sad at the same time, but I would like to add that books like Accidental remind you of the truth of what Philip Larkin said elsewhere: What will survive of us is love.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Accidentally launched

Well, it was Olive; yes, you could not have predicted that. I had placed my bets on Butterfly. But Olive it was who killed not just Elegant Effendi but Black's Enishte too. If you are clueless about what I am going on about, remember I have just emerged from the depths of Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, emerged only to dive deep into another fantastic book, The Accidental.

This is the first book of Ali Smith's I am reading, and I am bowled over. I am in the middle of it by now, and when I say middle, I mean Middle, because Ali divides her book into neat partitions: Beginning, Middle and End. Barely two days into it and I am on page 189 already.

Smith is very intelligent, for one. The depth of her perception grabs you by the ear. The book reminded me of the stream of consciousness style of Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse, in its interconnection of various strands that provide a binding narrative to the book. Events happen and they are linked by people's emotions invested in them, their misunderstandings, what they thought the others thought, and what actually transpired. The web of crossed connections is simply superb.

But for all that, Smith is very contemporary. She makes references of David Beckham and Yann Martel within the story. Her characters lead empty lives, but Smith imbues their emptiness with a questioning embrace, rescuing them from drabness. Her people cry against invisibility, most of all from themselves. There is a constant looking in, in the best tradition of the modernists.

True, the book is about Astrid's unannounced entry into the Smart household; yes, its about how this stranger reforms the screwed up family, but it's equally about why life, the stuff of it, is reason enough, is glorious all right.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

A book within

Sarah Waters discusses the path she took in penning Fingersmith. For those of you who haven't read the book, I suggest drop everything else and go grab a copy. It is a sprawling Victorian saga of murder, thievery and romance that boasts dizzying plot twists and a very proper (read Victorian) ending. I link to this piece because it shows how the final finished product that's handed to readers has its origins in not so perfect settings. Writers like Smith get their hands dirty with research (Sue, however, came to me from Victorian journalism: her voice was inspired by those worldly, plangent, poignant voices captured by social investigators such as Henry Mayhew, author of the mammoth London Labour and the London Poor.) and what might seem like a case of one-off genius is actually a product of painstaking hard work.

Which is what it is, you might say, but to me, the romantic notion of a "book within" that appears on the page in a flight of creative inspiration has struck a special chord ever since Arundhati said that GOST was written with no revision. One may say that a part-autobiographical novel like GOST may yet spring from one's inner self, which is mighty impossible for a booming Victorian saga, yet there's something utterly intelligent and also serendipitous about discovering a great work wthout really seeking it.

Sarah's piece here.
Comparison of Brokeback and GOST.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sexually charged

Been reading My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk. The writing is top-class and the book is very literary, in the mould of Umberto Eco's The Name Of The Rose. Only halfway through it yet, but already Pamuk has managed to weave a thrilling mystery. It's also very sensual, the writing. Every kind of sexual act, save incest and bestiality, are described with a profound lyricism. Tales of courtesans and gigolos (doesn’t fit here: a very American term, it fails to capture the eastern, Islamic feel of the book) fill the pages and an Istanbul rife with sexual energy and artistic passions comes alive. Why are those (bestiality, incest) left out, is a wonder Pamuk must answer himself, for he has a habit of imbuing even the most mundane with a magic touch, so that even rape and deviancy become acceptable. For in his book, everything, even cruelty, arises from a spring of essential humanity. More on this later.

More Orhan.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Abstaining from life

Now that Zadie has lapped the Orange, it's the perfect time to pull out one of her solid essays on EM Forster, the man she pays a tribute to in her prize-winning On Beauty. She applauds Forster for retaining that quality that Austen's characters lacked: empathy, a sort of love.

Forster, like Austen, abhors the vain, the self-important, the mannered, the blind and the foolish. But there are some fascinating differences. What one might call conscientious abstainers appear frequently in both authors: Cecil Vyse, Mr Beebe, Philip Herriton find their matches in many of the paternal figures in Austen, most noticeably Mr Bennet. By conscientious abstainer, a specific philosophic type is meant here: this is the man whose life-reading skills are as good as we might hope them to be, but who chooses only to read, to observe, but not to be involved. They are the novel's flaneurs. They invariably think of themselves as "students of human nature", and they are condemned by both authors as Aristotle properly condemns them, as people inured to the responsibilities of proper human involvement. But the nature of the condemnation is different for each author, and employs two different styles. Austen shows her laissez-faire fathers as irresponsible to their families, playing pointless intellectual games that neglect a practical, social necessity - in most cases, the inheritance or future marriages of their daughters. No attempt is made at their interior life; the pre-Freudian Austen does not care why they are so, only that they are so.

This can be said for Henry James's protagonists as well, why, for Henry himself. This is better explained by reading my Henry posts here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Final Rites & Other Distractions

It was that very few were expected at Jenny Roger's funeral. So when the church was barged with people that sunny afternoon in November, the pastor did not know what had got into the locals.

She had been a mildly famous author, certainly well known in this quaint town not far from Brighton with gardens bright with flowers and birdsong. The inspiration, she had said once, had flowed smoothly.

The first to come in was Mr. Smith, he of the lush moustache and bawdy tongue. He had been a character in one of her novels about a drunkard named Malcolm. Mr. Smith had been his friend. He had drunk to death from cirrhosis. There was a collective gasp as men and women cringed at the sight of this unkempt specter. By and by they reconciled to his presence.

Along came Polly Norton. She was the brightest of the young kids at the school that was run by the National Endowment for Financial Education. She had earned straight As in all subjects except physical training, but one could always allow some leeway there. She had been an aggressive harridan in one of Jenny's novels, a hag who had outgrown her youthful charm to turn into a bitter old spinster. There was a murmur of discontent through the crowd, which the priest did well to order.

Now Mr. Connery made an appearance. He had been a harlequin in "Traveling Circus", who had fallen in love with Emma, an expert hatter who had gifted him a handsome hat made of solid wool felt. They had lived happily ever after in the book, but in the here and now, Emma had deserted Connery for Smith. Obviously, the usher guided Connery to a pew safely distant from Smith's.

By and by the star of the ceremony Ms. Roger arrived. The writer of such classics as "Two Timing" and "Traveling Circus" made a guest appearance at her funeral. Nobody had expected her, for she was infamous for her haughtiness, but it's not everyday that one gets to attend one's burial. Connery was cross with her for ruining his life, but for the sake of propriety, he kept silent.

Mrs. Delaware was asked to deliver the hagiography. She stood on the podium and read in a clear, detached tone from a note. "This ceremony has been organized in the dear memory of my beloved friend Jenny Roger. There isn't much to say about her, for she led an extremely private life, except that she wrote. She wrote books that spoke to one's soul, and one, 'Two Timing' based on the life of our common friend Emma, who I see is not present today, changed my views on marriage and commitment. Her voice was always tempered, which I assume must have been a daunting task, because the last thing one expects from Jennykins is restraint. As long as I live, I'll be proud to have been given the opportunity to read her books, which was, I must add, infinitely easier than my failed attempts at reading her. It is an indication of the uniqueness of this remarkable woman that despite herself, she has managed to honor us with her presence today. Ladies and gentlemen! Jenny Roger!"

The crowd burst into applause apparently inspired by Delaware's slow buildup towards something meaningful. "Ladies," Roger spoke with passion, "I can't waste my time with the odious details of this ceremony, and so I ask you simply to contribute towards recovering its costs by making donations in the blue box that is placed at the entrance. In return for your kindness, each of you would be provided with a printed copy of the Ceremony Text, that includes exclusive extracts from my next novel "Taking Lives" and also Rose Delaware's complete speech. I hope this would be appreciated not only as a record of an important occasion in Lewes's cultural calendar but also because it would provide a means of disseminating information to relatives or friends who have been unable to attend the funeral. I hope you all have a good time. I wish my husband was here too, but we have not been on good terms lately. Some people just cannot deal with a few moments of silence and some uplifting music. My novels are spare, you see. I could not have managed a pompous event for his service."

Just as the pastor decided it was time, he was handed a slip by the usher, which contained a request by some in the audience to allow them to pay obeisance to Jenny Roger. The pastor wasn't too keen on this, for there were other funerals to conduct, but one really can't be squeamish on such occasions. The first to grace the stage was old Mr. Wembley.

"My fellow Lewesians!" he crooned, "I stand before you to honor the life and death of our dear Jenny." He looked towards her, and she nodded like a top-notch intelligence officer instructing a young recruit to begin. "It’s the perfect day for a ceremony like this. When in the morning, the sun had shone mercilessly, I had quipped to Angelica that after all, the final chapter of "Brutal Hands" would not be played out like in the novel. But as the morning wore, the sky was suddenly overcast, and now, this hailstorm. Just as in the novel. My heartiest congratulations to Jenny! She was a master of the craft. I ask that you rest in peace, dear, that you watch over us, because we here have been, uhmm, the only ones to consistently appreciate your work."

Mr. Wembley alighted after asking Mr. Connery to speak a few words. Connery, ever mindful of his background in the army, stood very erect and droned in his ponderous baritone, "Dear all! It’s a pleasure to stand before you to appraise Jenny Roger's life and work. The last time I attended her funeral was as a kid of 9. In my gumboots and relaxed gait, I had no idea then where life would take me." He paused. Now that the subject of his past had come up, he expected a violent sympathy to rise in the hearts of those attending. "My father often gave me Jenny's books to learn what the future held for us. The first book that I read was incidentally based on my life."

Connery glanced at Smith crabwise, and found the sot squirming in his chair. "I took a shine to it because it was so engrossing in places I forgot that my father killed himself in it. 'Two Timing' was a brilliant saga of men who toiled for this country and returned victorious. The nation deserved us; you deserved us, the novel hollered. When I read it now, it is one of the books I am truly nostalgic about, because one, I relate to how I read it in childhood, and one’s childhood is always a wonderful time, and two, it ended on a happy note that I wished had played out in real life too. Emma I truly loved and I would never know what she saw in that drunken bastard fooling around on the third row here. My poor widow. Oh! My poor widow," Connery howled. He leaned over the dais and wept copiously.

"Was I invited here to witness this baloney?" shrieked Polly in her cracked accent.

"Oh, do shut up, Polly," pitched Mrs. Wembley, "what would you know of love?"

"Martha Wembley, would you please stand up?" Polly snapped bitingly. Martha Wembley did not know why she please stood up.

"I would have known love and I would have known marriage, and I would have known life, if pretty Ms. Delaware there, sitting cozily next to her very masculine hubby, had not abandoned me!"

The crowd raised a collective gasp, and faces turned and footwear screeched, and this hurt Smith, for inducing consternation had been his exclusive preserve. But the scandal was so delicious he let it pass.

"How dare you, Norton?" Rose rushed towards Polly, for there could not be a better time than this to use the pocket knife that Simon had brought for her from France. She grabbed hold of Polly’s hair, took a moment to rummage her purse for the weapon of choice and slit her neck wide open. A spurt of blood fell on Simon’s shirt, his very proper English shirt, which Rose rued. But she remembered the Tide commercial that she had seen on TV last night, and thank God for the New Tide, which assured cleanliness so white, they were marketing free sunglasses with every pack to prevent blindness from its brightness.

It was the placid Mrs. Wembley who gave a start and announced, "I told you! Missy’s book has landed plum reality before reaching the market. Taking lives, my ass!"