You guys – and when I say “you guys” I know I mostly mean random people on the internet who just wandered here for the first and only time looking for something about Cloud Atlas or ASoIaF (Hi, there!) – I still read. Maybe not a lot, definitely not as much as I used to, but I still do. I’ve just lost the desire to write about what I read. I used to feel that I couldn’t put a book back on the shelf until I wrote about it; that I wasn’t finished with a book until I scribbled something mostly meaningless about what it may have meant to me on this blog. But now, with a borrowed kindle, a long commute and no shelves (WIP) I seem to have lost my routine.
This long-winded paragraph was my way of giving an explanation for the 3-in-1 post I’m doing. On an unrelated note, Neil Gaiman has announced a new adult book, and this, at least, fills me with joy and anticipation.
I read about the book in an article somewhere and when a friend got around to it he described it as sadder than The Road which is as inaccurate as it goes (for a number of reasons I’ll get into in a bit) but it doesn’t mean it’s not comparable to The Road. They are both set in a post-apocalyptic world, both following the struggles of a ragged band of survivors. But where The Road’s Man & Boy are lost, hungry, cold, unarmed and following a path that might lead them nowhere, The Dog Stars’s Hig is living an in abandoned hangar, growing veggies, hunting with his dog Jasper and occasionally flying because, oh yeah, he has a plane. His human companion is Bangley, a gun nut and quite a good strategist, who saves Hig’s ass a number of times. And while the dog’s death and the emptiness and purposelessness Hig feels is moving, it’s nothing compared to the tense desperation of the Man, knowing is days are fast approaching their end and his son will be left defenseless. So, as far as the end of the world goes, Hig doesn’t have it all that bad.
Re-reading this last paragraph, it seems to me I sound a little combative – which was far from my intention, since I just wanted to make a little comparison of situations. I did enjoy the book and its mixture of fun, melancholy and, most of all, humanity, is quite captivating.
This short novel deals with the lives of Alice and Mattia, from a tormented childhood, to a dysfunctional adulthood. Alice, under the care of an overbearing father, has a skiing accident which leaves her with both physical and mental scars. As a teenager she can’t accept herself, she becomes anorexic and she is bullied by a classmate. While she does discover a passion in photography, her whole life is still under the control of those traumas: they destroy her relationships and lead her to have a hard (if not impossible) time of making emotional connections with others – except for Mattia. A child of emotional trauma as well (at the age of 9 he has abandoned his mentally challenged sister in a park – where she got lost or died) he copes with his struggle by cutting himself. An exceptional mind, he is gifted for mathematics, basking in its cold, emotionless approach and the deepest human connection he manages to have is with Alice. They are the prime numbers (the conceit on which the whole book is based) – twin numbers always in proximity, never fully touching. Outsiders. While the idea is fairly interesting, I wasn’t really moved by the execution – it falls in maudlin, trite and even some kind of sensationalism a little too often – but it did make me think about the scarring one can unwittingly inflict on the fragile mind of a child. NYTimes has made so much more of the book than I managed to – but I suspect it’s just a matter of what makes you tick.
Unlike the rather lukewarm feelings I had about the other two, Narcopolis I loved, perhaps mostly because it brought me back to India, a country which used to hold a high standing in my reading list, but which has fallen to the wayside lately (soon to be corrected). The hero is rather a heroine, as the narrator puts it – because it’s a story about addiction in Bombay on the 70s. The first person narration it starts and ends with melds seamlessly into a third person narration when we enter Rashid’s khana on Shuklaji Street and meet Dimple, his pipe-maker. Dimple, a rather unique character, is always referred to in the feminine, but we soon learn that she’s actually an eunuch made at the age of 9, after her mother can no longer care for her and abandons her. She’s a prostitute, a pipe maker and, above all, an addict – and she introduces us to the underbelly of Mumbai, the junkies, the pimps and the murderers through a haze of opium smoke. And, while the book does strike some false notes (Dimple’s cultural opinions aren’t really true to the character) this doesn’t make it a less fascinating journey into a world long gone. In the end, Bombay is replaced by Mumbai, slums are replaced by the cold steel of office buildings and the haze of the khana by the glaring lights of a club. Jeet Thayil’s has battled his own addiction for 20 years but, as the Guardian review says, this experience has not gone to waste. And of the 2 nominees for the 2012 Booker I’ve read, I’d give him the edge over Hilary Mantel. She is definitely deserving, but she’s already won in 2009 and Bring up the bodies is more of the same, really.