Sunday, 22 March 2015

Arthur and George - Julian Barnes

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The book justifies the author's fame as a great writer.

I got to the book after ITV telecast a 3 part series based on the novel. The first two episodes were so gripping that I couldn't wait till the third week. I walked down to my nearest library, picked up the book and read on to find out what happened in the end.

However I was mindful of the fact that the series had mentioned that it was based on the novel and therefore was aware that the TV ending can be a bit different. But I wanted to see how the author had visualised the story and was happy to see that the TV did justice to the story, well the first half atleast.


In the 1900s there was a series of cattle killings in Straffordshire. The police is feeling the pressure to nab the culprit but have failed. Then the newspapers then announce that a parsi man, George Edalji has been caught and is tried for the crime. The son of a vicar, who is studying to be a solicitor seems like an unlikely person to commit the crime. He protests and claims innocence but the evidence is strong and he is sentenced to prison. Years later, he comes out of jail and seeks help from Arthur Conan Doyle to clear his name.

Doyle who is going through his own personal crisis, that of losing his wife, takes up the case and decides to get to the truth of it.

The story is a study of these two gentlemen, how the case affects their lives, their personalities and the reason for the case, an insight into the society of the time and their prejudices.

What works:
  • PD James has endorsed the book on its jacket by saying that right from the first few lines, you can ascertain the quality of the book.  Although she is one of my favourite authors, I have to admit she is right when she says that. 
  • The writing is simple, clear yet the description of Doyle and childhoods of Arthur and George cannot be more contrasting.
  • The incisive observation while adding to the storyline is very good and engaging and I realised that I just flew through the pages.
  • I also loved the way Holmes always stalks Doyle whereever he goes and how much of Doyle is inhabited by Holmes or viceversa. The comparison is subtle yet blatant when Doyle's methods clash with the flamboyant Holmes.
What doesn't:
  • There is no obvious conclusion here unlike the TV series. It is more of a reflection of a prejudiced bureaucratic society and a study of how lives must have been difficult for immigrants back in the 1900s.
A great book. Highly recommended. But if you have already seen the ITV series don't go expecting a similar conclusion. The ending goes beyond what the TV series opted for. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Confessions of a GP - Benjamin Daniels

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The book came under my radar when it came up on the the World book night list for 2014. Since then, I have been waiting to get my hands on it and finally found it in a charity bookshop. Reason for picking it up? Well, having a GP for a husband I was looking forward to finding out what this book can enlighten me about, that I already did not know.

Well, I was surprised to learn a few new things. Also, the book made for some good light reading.

The Gist:

The book is a series of anecdotes of this doctor his day to day work life, experiences and the people he meets as a result of his job.

The narratives are neatly divided into easily digestible chapters. Each chapter is a short narrative touching on the NHS, comparision between healthcare at home and abroad, his patients, their myriad issues not always medical and his work life on the whole.

The book offers some refreshing insight into what goes on in a doctor's life. Contrary to the popular belief that the doctors earn millions just by spending few designated hours behind a desk, this book tells us of the pressures they face.

The challenges due to the policy changes, the rigours of making that split decision that goes this way or another, the various factors that make NHS unique make for some good reading.

What works:
  • The book encapsulates the gist of what it is to be a doctor. It educates at the same entertains through its swift and concise narratives. 
  • Short individual chapters mean you can dip in as and when and carry on. 
What doesn't:
  • The chapters offer only a birds eye view instead of a comprehensive picture. 
  • They seem tailored for people who have a short attention span and cannot be trusted with longer chapters and detailed insights.
  • The book maybe enjoyed more by reluctant and light readers who do not prefer the rigours of a big book. However, voracious readers like me can feel shortchanged since all the book offers is a delicious bite while denying the whole snack.
I can see why the book was recommended for the World Book Night. It is indeed a good book for reluctant readers. However, seasoned readers may find it a bit wanting.

Having said that, I see this book as a great idea to gift someone contemplating a career as a GP. The book offers a good idea of life as a doctor and those aspiring to become one can draw enough information to make up their minds about it.

For seasoned readers I have another recommendation. After reading the Confessions, I came across another book with a similar subject called The Country Doctor by Micheal Sparrow. I found it far more interesting and enjoyable.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Coroner - M.R.Hall

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A dysfunctional detective who shines more than the story.

Well, that holds true for most crime novels isn't it? Almost as if it is a fashion for the central characters to be a bit skewed
if they need to be investigated some twisted crime. Well, this book is interesting soley for its lead character rather than the bit about solving the crime.


A teenager is found murdered in a prison centre and then a prostitute of a similar age is found dead on the streets. They both had records and it seems like an open and shut case. However, the coroner who did their inquests dies and the cases lands up on the door of Jenny Cooper, a newly appointed coroner. After a meltdown on the professional and personal fronts as a lawyer and a mother, she has been given the role of a coroner, apparently a less stressful and low profile job.

Despite having several issues, least of which is drinking and drugs, Cooper refuses to give a verdict and decides to dig into the case. Confrontng her is the system that has its own reasons to keep the cases quiet and the her own past which makes her an unpopular colleague. Cooper also has issues on the family front, still reeling from losing custody of her son to her ex-husband which adds another dimension to her personality.

Cooper's headstrong attitude helps her win allies on the way as she battles a strong and corrupt system to find out the truth behind the two cases.

What works:

  • The characterisation. Jenny Cooper is too good. The reader can identity with her and empathise with her. Despite her numerous faults she comes across as a loveable character that one feels for. 
  • The story gets too bogged down with the details of how the understaffed coroner's department leads with workload. The underdogs of the society often get a raw deal due to the shortage of resources and this is well reflected in the story.

What doesn't:

  • The story is more about the corrupt system rather than a whodunnit. It is more like an expose of the means by which crime force handles caseload. 
  • It doesn't have the pace of a whodunnit, readingg more like an honest person's tirade against injustice. 
However, the book shines through for the honest and excellent portrayal of Jenny Cooper. I stuck through the end to watch how Jenny Cooper fares. That is the only thing that keeps you going through that 400+ pages. 

In a nutshell, don't pick up expecting a fast paced plot instead relish in its characters. The book becomes more enjoyable then.