Exit Ghost: Philip Roth

Growing old can be associated with gains, and of course with losses. The passing years leave behind experiences and sometimes these congeal into a philosophical understanding of the process of living itself. But is such a comprehension sufficient to enable you to face the paring off of precious years from your life? Philip Roth’s 'Exit Ghost' ruminates on the melancholy process of aging and also the unavoidable question of mortality.   

Nathan Zuckerman, a seventy one year old writer has returned to New York after a self imposed exile of eleven years. In these years he has stayed out of touch with the world, shutting himself off from the events and the people living in it. But when his friend succumbs to cancer and in his last note to Zuckerman implores him to give up his loneliness, it shifts something inside Zuckerman’s heart. He comes down to New York.

It is 2004 and the world has moved on. Mobile phones ring incessantly, different kinds of authors are worshipped, and unexpected presidents are elected. Zuckerman enters this transformed world and gets quickly drawn into its whirlwind when he meets a young writer and feels attracted to her. There is also another attachment from the past which comes out seeking for him. It is a secret from the past of the renowned author Lonoff who had been a mentor to Zuckerman in his youth. It has been some years since Lonoff has passed away, but a young writer, Kliman, wishes to write his biography and reveal Lonoff’s secret. Zuckerman, infuriated by Kliman’s unsympathetic views, finds himself in something of a duel with the young writer.

Philip Roth leads the reader into the highly intense dilemma of Zuckerman’s life. His sudden entry into the speedy urban world poses severe strain upon him and the desires he has repressed in his lonely life surge up with new vigor. Roth’s writing is very lucid and it powerfully brings to life the complexity of Zuckerman’s predicament. The unhappiness in his life does not remain constrained to the pages of the novel but escapes out and seeps into our own hearts.  

Another important theme at the center of the novel is regarding the distinction of an author’s personal life from his work. The young Kliman interests himself in revealing an unsavory aspect of Lonoff’s past, but Zuckerman holds that such a thing will be of no consequence in understanding the literature that Lonoff has produced. Interestingly, the older characters side with Zuckerman, while the younger ones with Kliman (Zuckerman himself hints of having held similar views when young). These arguments shed light into the various aspects of literature itself and are a very interesting read.

'Exit Ghost' is a rich literary fiction which combines multiple themes. I will recommend this complex novel for its poignant rendition of the process of growing old and for the depth of its characters.  

The novel can be downloaded for Kindle or can be bought from Flipkart in India.
Book source: Self 

The Cavansite Conspiracy: Manjiri Prabhu

A Cavansite is a rare, exotic blue mineral which is highly coveted by collectors. It is often found around Pune, India where Manjiri Prabhu’s thrilling novel ‘The Cavansite Conspiracy’ begins.

A very large Cavansite makes its home in the Crystal Museum of Rare Minerals in Pune and draws large crowds to the museum. But there also many interested parties willing to acquire it in legal or illegal ways. A Thai cult who believes in the spiritual powers of the Cavansite needs it to bring peace and harmony to the world, while there are others who want it for not so noble purposes. The Cavansite is stolen from the museum despite the high security, and what is peculiar is the uncanny resemblance of the theft with the plot of a bestselling novel ‘The Cavansite Conspiracy’.

Koyal Karnik, who works in Hamburg, is visiting Pune to attend her best friend’s wedding and to enjoy a day of happiness. But the day unfolds in a dreary manner when a gruesome murder is committed and Koyal finds herself implicated for the murder and for the theft of the Cavansite. Chased by police, and by the goons of the underworld, Koyal finds only one person she can trust and who will stand by her through this ordeal, her ex-boyfriend, Neel. Together, they must find the missing Cavansite and prove Koyal’s innocence before the worst plans of the enemy are accomplished.   

Manjiri Prabhu has woven a truly exciting plot for her novel. It is great fun to be by Koyal’s side and see the mystery unfolding through its twists and turns. What I liked best was the way the novel ended. The twist at the end was most surprising and completely unpredictable. It is a very cleverly designed novel and is made a page turner by its intricate plot. 

There is also an important message that the novel tries to convey. Koyal Karnik is a left handed person who has suffered in her childhood due to the prejudices held against left handed people in India. It is indeed unfortunate that many cultures still consider left handedness inauspicious or associate it with bad luck. The novel discusses this aspect and shows what harmful effects such misconstrued beliefs can have on the upbringing of a child.

The Cavansite Consipiracy was published recently and is a fun and enjoyable read. I recommend it to readers who like thrillers with a dash of romance. 

The novel can be bought from Flipkart or Rediff in India.
Book source: Self 

Bougainvillea House: Kalpana Swaminathan

Clarice Aranxa is old and terminally ill with the motor neuron disease. She lives with her loyal servant Pauline in the Bougainvillea House at Baga beach in Goa, India. It seems that the days ahead will be uneventful, a slow passage to the biggest event of life – dying. But death turns out to be capricious, impatient, and shows up much before its expected time. And when it does arrive, it is not for the frail Clarice, but for someone else entirely. Kalpana Swaminathan’s 'Bougainvillea House' holds a highly intriguing psychological mystery, one which threatens the existence of all those who are associated with it.  

Clarice is a prim and proper lady, proud of her illustrious Portuguese lineage. She has imbibed all the good virtues in her daughters, made them into proper, well bred ladies themselves. But virtuousness does not necessarily bring along happiness, as Marion her younger daughter finds out. The beautiful, rich and attractive Marion is still unmarried at thirty seven and despite her virtuousness bad luck has always shadowed her everywhere. Her fiancé had committed suicide in front of a speeding train a month before their marriage and now when she had just begun enjoying the company of the young doctor treating her mother, the doctor has chosen to end his life at the bottom of a well. Marion, with her bad luck, Clarice with her righteousness, and Pauline with her fierce devotion are stranded at the Bougainvillea house dreading the next curveball that fate is about to throw at them.

'Bougainvillea House' is a deliciously dark fiction. The characters are beautifully developed and are the real strength of the novel. Clarice Aranxa, the protagonist, is a complicated and multi layered personality. She is introduced as a frail, vulnerable woman, but as we spend more time with her, we begin to uncover the unsavory facets of her personality, which reveal that she is neither vulnerable nor frail. The other characters, Marion, Pauline, Dr. Khan, the neurologist who treats Clarice, are also fleshed out in detail and they appeal to us as their desires and fears become known to us. 

Another remarkable aspect of this novel is its intelligent structure. We are conveyed the events through Clarice’s tape recording in the beginning, and then we are shown pages from the neurologist’s diary and his medical reports, interspersed with the narrative from the points of view of other characters. It is not clear who Clarice is speaking to in the beginning, but when we do come to know we really begin to appreciate the beauty of this design. Swaminathan’s prose is lucid and creates stark visuals in our minds. The serenity of the Baga beach and the evil that lurks in it leave the pages and begin to envelop our minds. And just like Dr. Khan who embarks on the quest to discover the truth we are also infected with curiosity and dread for what we are about to find out. 

'Bougainvillea House' is a psychological mystery and I will highly recommend it for the beautiful prose that manifests through its intriguing characters and intelligently crafted plot.

This novel can be bought through Flipkart or from Amazon. 
Book source: Self 

I met Wilbur Smith today!

I am just back from attending a talk by Wilbur Smith and I now possess a signed copy of his latest novel ‘Those in peril’. How exciting is that! 
Landmark, the fantastic book store chain, had arranged Wilbur Smith’s reading and signing event today at their Pune store. It was a full house with many of his fans eager to hear him speak and get their copies signed. Mr. Smith shared some very interesting anecdotes about how he began his writing career and also talked about his methods of writing. He has a great sense of humor and his speech was full of fun stories.
I am really looking forward to read ‘Those in peril’ and will be posting a review soon!

Wilbur Smith is going to be in Bengaluru tomorrow. Here are the details of his tour.