Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Random wisdom: Pete Dexter.

“Things break more in bars than they do outside -- hearts, noses, bottles, promises. And in the breaking are beautiful stories.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Nobody does it better.

Than Murakami. Here's a short story I read online the other day: A Shinagawa Monkey. Thank you, New Yorker.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

There's gotta be a record of you somewhere/ You gotta be on somebody's books.

Everything of meaning I've ever written is influenced by Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar, quite literally, rocked my world, and I think my sensibility (not to mention my writing) is the richer for it.

Plath was the original golden girl. She married Ted Hughes. She left him, and went away to live in WB Yeats' old home with her children. She committed suicide.

Most of all, she wrote stuff like this (difficult stuff, to be sure; the villanelle is among the toughest forms of poetry to write):

Mad Girl's Love Song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

And this: her rare reading of Lady Lazarus.

Kate Moses wrote a fictional version of her life, Wintering. Doesn't hold a candle to the images in my head. Or in her writing.

Years after I first read them, Plath's lines continue to play softly, but frequently, inside my head: “How did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”

Some day you will find me/ Caught beneath the landslide.

Always been fascinated with first novels. In my mind, at least, they’re hopelessly intertwined with the process of being published. With first principles. With a clarity of motivation that gets a shade murkier with every subsequent piece of writing. Perhaps I romanticise it too much, but there’s a certain lack of artfulness, some strange lack of reader awareness, that makes a first novel just a little exceptional.

So here they are, three firsts.

Yann Martel's The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios. Strikingly self-conscious, and more than a little clunky. Among the unnecessary bits of self-reference, are traces of the intelligence and humour that will be distilled into a sensibility that makes Pi Patel such a sympathetic character. Other than that, the book seems to have been created, almost entirely, out of Martel's brute belief in having to be a writer. Which is pretty fascinating in itself.

John Bennett’s debut, Sea Otters Gambolling in the Wild, Wild Surf, seemed like another Vernon God Little wannabe. But the book straightens itself out in a hurry, and makes for a light, trippy read. It's a coming-of-age novel of these times, and while it might lack the emotional depth of, say, The Catcher In The Rye, it has an immediacy, a certain disposability, if you will, that's unerringly accurate about this generation.

I'm almost at the end of Suketu Mehta's Maximum City. Extremely mixed feelings. The book starts off as autobiography, and then plunges into what can only be described as a series of interviews, loosely connected by some bare-bones reportage. It feels strangely unfulfilling, like reading a writer’s background notes. The autobiographical stuff -- the geography of the novel, if you will – was enchanting, but that’s purely because it describes the city I spent most of my life in.

From the terrace at CafĂ© Naaz (scene of a disastrous first date with Parsi then-love-of-life; should have heeded the signs and run; would've spared me much grief from my friends, at least). To the 1993 riots (Annual Exhibition time in my post-grad year at Sophia; was forced to stay in ‘town’ with friends since travel back to my suburban home was too dangerous; phone lines were down, so couldn't call home and tell my parents; the next few months were hellish). To the dance bars (work in advertising, and you’ll see more than you should, e.g., your colleagues feathering ten-rupee notes at women moving a disinterested hip to daft Hindi movie songs).

All in all, unless the book changes dramatically in the last hundred pages, it’s just another nostalgia aid for ex-Bombayites like me.

Friday, February 10, 2006

It's hard to say it/ I hate to say it/ But it's probably me.

Over the past few months, seem to have struck some sort of motherlode of writing. Maybe I'm just going through a particularly impressionable phase, but some of these voices sound breathtakingly fresh to me.

The first of these is Gregory David Roberts'. Lyrical, profound (in a way that reminds me, oddly enough, of Robert M. Pirsig), and set in the city I've spent most of my life in, Shantaram is a reasonably interesting story told in an extraordinarily beautiful manner. The writing kept me going through the bits the plot didn't. (This, in spite of being on the longlist for the Literary Review Bad Sex award.)

The second is John Banville's. Quite simply, the most haunting prose voice I've ever read. Even though I kept coming across words I've never heard of before. Words like flocculent, or cinereal, or crepitant. The Sea is currently my gift of choice to friends who appreciate a good read. (And don't mind reading with a dictionary alongside.)

There are others, but I can't quite figure if I'm bringing a different (kinder? more liberal?) mindset to my reading than before. Could have something to do with the fact that the past few months have been among the most unsettling ones in my life (which is not what one might call a turbulence-free zone, in the first place).

Too much angst within, so I guess I welcome writing that calms from without. Even if temporarily.
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