Monday, 21 April 2014

Unearthing Venus - Cate Montana

An honest and fascinating memoir.

Thanks to Goodreads, I get to read books that I would be normally be sceptical about and I am glad to have had the chance to explore new horizons through this one.

Cate Montana's memoir is something like a spiritual quest to understand the feminine, the concept of a woman. Well, that is good but when I first read the jacket my immediate thought well, here comes another sob story.

To give you an idea, Unearthing Venus instantly reminds one of Eat, Pray and Love (EPAL). There, you get the gist of what this one is all about now. This one though similar, in the sense it is a life story but also interesting one, mainly because of the way it has been handled. To be honest, though I liked what I read of EPAL, I couldn't bring myself to stick to it to the end.

But where Eat, Pray and Love was about a divorcee who was trying to make sense of her life by going to Indonesia, India and Italy (what soured it for the reader that apparently she was commissioned to these places to write a book). However Montana here traces the concept of the role of woman and applies it to her personal life and upbringing and explores it through her experiences.


Montana begins by saying that what she wanted to write a book about being a woman and then flashes back to her background, growing up in the 50s and 60s, the kind of society she lived in. What makes it personal is her narrative about her female role model, own mother and seeing the role of women through her. Years later, she makes a career for herself in the cut throat world of television and takes us through her personal relationships but her mother still plays a pivotal role.

Her quest for the spiritual begins after she decides, when in her mid 40s, she gives up her job and begins the journey for "spiritual upliftment". The reason why I put it in quotes is that, that is something that I can't relate to. I could understand the personality traits when growing up, the need to excel in her career, her attempt at her marriages but then the spiritual bit alienated me. However, she does manage to make it immensely readable and credit to her for making an abstract and obscure concept of spiritualism into an engaging narrative.

What works:

  • Great style. Very fluid and effective. Keeps you hooked
  • Interesting the way she has talked her mother and put into perspective the role of women in western society in the 50s
  • Spiritual experiences can be a bit off putting but she makes it readable

  • What doesn't:

Well the second half was a bit of a ramble, maybe because the spiritual aspects left me a bit cold. Maybe it is because I have been unable to experience a similar thing.

However, kudos to her for coming up with a book that is impossible to put down. I mean you can relate to some bits, you may fail to connect with the rest, but the point is you can't ignore it. You can't leave the book half way saying well, this stuff is boring, because Montana is a good storyteller. She makes it her business to see to it that we keep going till we get to the end.

I don't hesitate to give up if the going gets boring. But Montana ensures that I stuck to it and I did because I admire the book as a fantastic piece of storytelling. The style and narrative are effective and is a great read without being heavy.

One does not have to have an interest in spiritualism to read it. Montana has had such an eventful life, that it is fun reading through it just to find out what happens to her next.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Poets' wives - David Park

Some books are read for their stories, whereas some are savoured for their vivid imagery. David's Park's The Poets' Wives belongs to latter category.

The gist:

The poets in question are William Blake, Osip Mandelstam, a Russian revolutionary poet and an unknown Irish poet. These are three separate stories which are told from their wives' point of view.

Blake's reputation as a madman yet a genius in the eyes of his wife as he breathed life into words and turned them into poetry is very effective although a bit abstract. Park makes a great connection between Blake and his poetry by inserting lines at appropriate intervals.

The second account is that of Nadehzha Mandelstam and the how his rebellious poetry cost him his life and turned into a fugitive.

The third is that of an unknown contemporary Irish poet, how his poetic sensibilities restrained him from reaching out to his wife and children.  Each account is different for the era and society separates the poets but they are bound by the common thread of fighting a society that wants them to tame them.

What works:

The language is beautiful and the moving images

What doesn't:

Although there is a bit of background, often the stream of consciousness gets a bit taxing for the reader to stay on board with the text.

The voices though they are poignant feel a bit incomplete, leaving the reader wanting for a more comprehensive account

The writing style is brilliant and the descriptions are evocative. However it is a taxing read and requires perseverance to enjoy it.

Just one evil act - Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George redeems herself with her new book.

After a disappointing read in Believing the Lie, George's new novel brings her back with a bang. This one has it all, exotic locale, a situation that points fingers closer home to the main characters thereby flummoxing the reader. What else can the reader ask for?

George excels in using the crime thriller genre to her best advantage. It is not a simple case of who dunnit and why but how did the crime happen, the far flung repurcussions and the retribution. A bulky read, it sweeps through the traffic ridden london streets to the lush green countryside of Italy. Also, Barbara Havers here enjoys a dominant role while Lynley though pivotal, takes more of a backseat this time.  I can't help gushing enough and well the tall praise isn't because it is a free copy as some may be led to believe. It was a library copy and this just proves time and again at how Elizabeth George is a master in this game.

I loved Barbara Havers' love to hate persona who does all the wrong things for the right reasons. That is what George is good at. Creating these layers where the end does not justify the means. The plot is an example of how desperation can cloud one's sensibilities forcing them to take rash decisions which prove detrimental.

The gist:

The story takes off where Believing the lie ended with Hadiyaah's kidnapping. Barbara takes it personally and risks professional hara kiri to get the girl restored to her father, also her love interest. In the process, Barbara incurs the wrath of her superior Ardery who is determined to stall her. Lynley steps in as the liason officer after it is learnt that the girl could be in Italy. But events take a sinister turn as Barbara throws caution to the winds and desperately tries to get to the bottom of it all in a race against time in a foreign country.

What works:

  • George's brilliant portrayal of kidnapping of a foreign national
  • Her tight grip on how the tabloid journalism works
  • The clash of cultures especially when it comes to communication
  • A terrific plot which keeps the reader on the edge
  • A beautiful setting to lay the story out

What doesn't:

It is a bit of a bulky read but then George's novels are always elaborate, well set stories which work great as a standalone read even if you are unfamiliar with the regular characters.

A satiating read.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Bloody Ham - Brian Kavanagh

I got this book through the firstreads giveaway. 
At a glance, the menacing jacket cover and the blurb had me intrigued. A self confessed crime thriller buff, it was enough for me to get started right away. 

Bloody Ham features two women Belinda and Hazel who play detectives in Kavanagh's stories and solve murders. This is their third mystery and since this is my first book about them, it took me a while to get the hang of it although there is background to fill in the reader about their past and present.

The Gist:

Bloody Ham gets its name from a English country manor called the Ham House with a sinister past currently in use as a setting by a film crew. The place is the setting for the murders to happen and the amateur duo who are involved in the film making take it upon themselves to investigate when a starlet is murdered on the set.

What works:
  • It is a very tightly knit fast paced story 
  • An interesting overview of how the film making industry works
  • Well written with some great descriptions such as the prologue 
What doesn't:
  • Although the story is well edited and fast moving there are times when the reader finds it difficult to keep a track of who is doing what
  • Too much focus on action
  • Rushed ending
Loved the way film making process has been explained and Brian's background obviously holds him in good stead. His writing style is admirable evident in the witty exchanges and beautiful descriptions.

However, the books sometimes dwells a bit too much on style and pace. This means that the narrative tends to take the reader for granted and does not make sure that the reader is on board with the events. 

The format although effective feels more like a film rather than a book. But in a film we can see what is happening and do not need to be told but in a book, every movement needs to be described for its audience. 

Perhaps I am old school, but I like to ease into the story after having synced with the characters and their minds. Maybe I should have come to Bloody Ham after reading the previous books. Also, the ending could have panned out a bit instead of rushing the reader through and then focussing more after the revelation.

What I am struggling with is about striking a harmony between the characters and the pacing of the plot which perhaps could have taken it to a whole new level other than an enjoyable read.

I guess my high expectations let me down. But then the plot holds such promise and with such an admirable writing style I couldn't help building on it.

Final word:
Well written and its slim volume means it can be easily finished in a sitting. Good story for those who like a quick who dunnit.