Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher [Book Review]

Thirteen Reasons Why.jpgTitle : Thirteen Reasons Why

Author : Jay Asher

ISBN : 9781595147882

Publisher : Razorbill

Genre : Young Adult/ Contemporary

Pages : 336

Source : Self

Rating : 2 Stars

 

 

Unless you wish to pluck your hair out of frustration, end up with more questions and have their the pet-peeve bone tickled rather incessantly, keep away from this.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book based on the suicide of one Hannah Baker. It revolves around the 13 reasons why she ended up committing suicide, the reasons which are made selectively public via tapes that she recorded before her death and ensured would get passed around to the 13 involved parties.

Characterisation

Well, it only says 13 people on the cover, but in reality you only get to know about 2. There’s Hannah who you wouldn’t connect to because there’s nothing told of her that would ever enable such a feeling. From the beginning of the book she’s just off rattling plot devices (aka the 12 of the 13 reasons) who’ve done nothing but anguish her (not really, they’ve all put her through such torment/minor inconveniences only once each). I use ‘anguish’ very lightly here. Even the narrator, Clay, couldn’t convince me enough to like Hannah as a person. She just seemed to rise from her grave, so to speak, to put her tormentors on trial. Further, the very attitude of Hannah’s (in actually sitting down recording the tapes, classifying the reasons into categories, making maps) speaks of clarity and doesn’t make the suicidal side of hers very believable. It’s tragic, but totally not believable.

The narrator, aka Clay Jensen, is equally bad. The narrator of a book is meant to be observant and paint an overall picture of the scenario because he is the reader’s only input into things. If an author can’t do this then the entire book fails. This here is a textbook example. Clay is so into his grief after Hannah’s suicide and angry at himself over his inability to ‘see the signs’ and save her that it’s turned into the only view he has on anything happening around him. This gets annoying real fast.

The remaining ‘support’ characters just appear to be plot devices, but nowhere to be seen as people. They’re there for the sole purpose of furthering the decision of Hannah’s suicide. They’re so two-dimensional that I can’t even recollect their names. They have nothing to offer to the book except being the catalyst that they are designed to be. There is no explanation for why they were being such jerks to Hannah. What Hannah describes is to be taken at face value, because why would a dying girl lie? Well, a dying girl might not lie but that still doesn’t give me a whole picture. People aren’t jerks for the heck of it, it’s motivated by something and this is lost to the reader.

Liked

I found it novel in the idea of using tapes in place of a suicide note with tiny ‘play’ ‘pause’ and ‘stop’ buttons denoting what the narrator was doing with the tapes. It was also pretty neat to feature a double perspective on things happening – As Hannah speaks, the narrator reacts to it making it appear very natural with the listener reacting to whatever he’s hearing. This however ended up getting pretty difficult when I was trying to speed-read the book because the difference was only in the way of font style (italics for Hannah, normal for the narrator) and I ended up confusing it pretty soon.

This book seems intended to be around one premise of how words can hurt others, how they snowball into something unimaginable and unintended – this tying in with the bullying Hannah faced. However, a lot of people who’ve rated it on a positive note seem to think that this book talks of depression and mental illnesses (because of the suicide involved). If we could remove that one misconception – this book does NOT talk of or deal with mental illnesses or depression – then I think it instantly turns into a slightly better book.

Didn’t like

The first thing I noticed reading through was the acute lack of struggle, of showing that it was Hannah’s last option to commit suicide. Reading through her reasons didn’t convince me that suicide was the only way out (this here is very subjective, but my rational mind can’t agree that she was forced to undergo anything suicide-provoking. It’s a grey area, I know). The book, for me, seemed to say that whenever things don’t seem to get better, suicide becomes a very rational option for people to take even if these problems are resolvable.

Personally I think that the reason this book exists is because she didn’t bother trying. Now it might sound harsh but my question is this: who thinks of suicide as their first and only resort? Had she seen what could be worked out (like getting away from negative influences, telling her parents), or tried getting to know a few more peers a few of who would be willing to give her a chance despite her ‘reputation’, or tried indicating that she needed help, and despite all these attempts nothing in her life changed, then the decision to commit suicide seems sensible.

She also does not bother understanding what consequences her tapes would have on the ones left behind. It’s as selfish as the act of her suicide itself is. This brings me to a related issue – Clay has done nothing to be named on the tapes. He’s only named there because for the story to make complete sense (according to Hannah) he had to be named. So he’s the golden egg amidst the rotten ones. The problem with this is that because of this, the book doesn’t reflect on how the ‘offenders’ have changed their ways upon understanding the consequences to their actions (because our narrator never does anything wrong!). This, I find, would be a significant detail for the readers to know.

Finally, the very fact that all 13 of her reasons are put on the same level of blame is pretty infuriating. For instance, being molested and stalked is equated to having her poetry stolen and being slapped by a girl out of jealousy. Further, some of her reasons make no sense at all – one of which is that she was in a car with a drunk driver when the car knocks over a stop sign that leads to an accident later that ends up killing a person. Why this ends up being a reason for her suicide, I’ve no idea.

Finally

To sum it, I would say that this book could have been so much more but ends with a lot being desired, On the other hand, this book has a great potential as a discussion starter (be it the reasons why, or the emotions Hannah must have felt or Clay’s dealing with the aftermath of losing Hannah and so on) which is needed and should be the goal an author writing a book along these lines should aim for.

Review by Mitra Somanchi

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Thirteen Reasons Why

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Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller [Book Review]

Notes on a Scandal.jpgTitle : Notes on a Scandal

Author : Zoe Heller

ISBN : 9780141029061

Publisher : Penguin UK

Genre : Nonfiction

Pages : 256

Source : Self

Rating : 4 Stars

Been wanting to read this book for a very long time.! Notes on a Scandal is a heart-wrenching read.

The story revolves around one Miss Sheba, who has an illicit affair with one of her pupils in the school she works in. The Book is narrated by her friend Barbara, a middle-aged woman who befriends Sheba after she joins the school.

I like how in the story ‘relationships’ are handled delicately, as they should be. How sometimes, people in relationships take things for granted, how they don’t realise what they have until they lose it and pay the price for it. The story also talks about ‘betrayal’ of friendship.

The story had a rather sad ending and makes you wish things had turned out differently. A lot of “coulda shoulda and woulda”.

It also touches certain topics like ‘loneliness’, ‘sexual frustration’ and ‘jealousy’. Which have been subtly incorporated in the narration by the author.

All in all, Notes on a Scandal is a really good read but has a rather sad ending and makes you wish things had turned out differently.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Notes on a Scandal

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The Sellout by Paul Beatty [Book Review]

the-sellout
The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Title : The Sellout

Author : Paul Beatty

ISBN : 9781786070173

Publisher : Pan Macmillan India

Genre : Contemporary

Pages : 289

Source : Self

Rating : 2 stars

 

 

Man Booker Prize for Fiction is considered as the Grammy of Literature and I am in no position to judge the authenticity and importance of this prize. But since last two years, the books that are getting this prize are difficult, unimaginative and a “distant” reads to me.

Coming to “The Sellout“, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2016, the multiple online & offline reviews claim it to be a “lacerating satire“. I did understand the overall plot and the broadly imbibed the message & satire that the author wanted to portray, but the reason of low rating is that I couldn’t understand most of the cultural references a way an American would have understood. The narration is in first person and the author digresses every now and then to strike a “lacerating satire” on racism and segregation through pop culture references and I only wished I could understand, if not relate to them.

The Prologue of the book only introduces the reader to its crazy & absurd theme- A black man is being tried in the Supreme Court of USA for slavery & racial segregation! The rest of the story continues in flashback. There is narrator’s father who is a controversial socialist with equally controversial ways of social & personal (on his own son) experiments, Hominy, who seeks pleasure in being enslaved, and the Hispanic town of Dickens where they have all lived since beginning but now the town has lost its name & identity.

The narrator’s father is shot dead by police during a feud. Dickens has been wiped out from the map and children at the local school are turning into goons and according to the narrator, the only way that these two issues can be solved is through racial segregation- making apartheid like separation modules in schools and different areas for Whites & Non Whites in Dickens.

The theme of the book is no doubt bold & brave. It has been more than 50 years of Martin Luther’s revolution but the race is still a burning issue in the States and combining racism with subtle and explicit satire is no wonder an extremely meticulous task by Beatty.

I would love to re-read this book someday when I am a better read person, when I am better aware of the historical and political fabric that clouds the horrendous evil of racism in United States.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: The Sellout

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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami [Book Review]

Norwegian-Wood-Haruki-Murakami.jpgTitle : Norwegian Wood

Author : Haruki Murakami

ISBN : 9780375704024

Publisher : Vintage Books

Genre : Contemporary Fiction

Pages : 389

Source : Self

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

 

May be this is the right way to end a novel. Leaving it for the readers to ponder as their mind would take them.

This is my second book by Haruki Mukami. A lot of friends recommended this to me and I am so glad I picked it up. Honestly I cannot find the right words to put together to justify this masterpiece. This is one of those novels that makes you ‘feel’. You must read to experience it.

Simple story of friendship, love, sex and depression thoroughly squirmed every instincts and thoughts that a person can afford.

It’s kind of hard to believe that a book can take you on an emotional ride like this one did! *Phew!*

The story is set in 1960s Japan and has been narrated entirely by the protagonist Toru Watanabe. I am not going to write about the plot.

The book has a very dark and murky feeling and it can leave you feeling a little empty. Before this I had read Murakami’s ‘South of the Border, West of the Sun’. If you have read two or more novels of Murakami you can sort of notice this pattern in his narration. It paints a picture of a cloudy, drizzly and gloomy atmosphere.

There is so much realness in his characters that you can’t help but feel like they exist somewhere in the real world. The characters speak to you. The book is a major page-turner and was an absolute roller-coaster ride for me!

His description of Watanabe and Midori kind of makes it effortless for the readers to relate with them. One of the books that kept me hooked after a really long time.

It is a gripping novel and a must read!

Buy yourself a copy here.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri [Book Review]

Final Lowland cover.inddTitle : The Lowland

Author : Jhumpa Lahiri

ISBN : 9780307265746

Publisher : Knopf

Genre : Contemporary fiction

Pages : 340

Source : Self

Rating : 4 stars

Decades of lives of the people who are linked to each other in a unique way, a guilt that binds all of them, which ends by giving no notion to the readers. An amazing journey that embarks from the beginning of a new life to the end, a beginning of a second life deeming for the end of it, amazingly written by Jhumpa Lahiri.

The story takes you to the places, alternatively, yet very precisely, that is left with the content of living, content of absolute solitude and a thirst to get up as the lives linked, that seems thinner than a membrane, move with a steady phase. The responsibilities that are taken, neglected by the creator for a better/worse reasons, ending with the deep longing of what was left, what could have been theirs and what would not have been specific, considering how misplaced and lost life was.

A steady journey of revolt for the better tomorrow that threatened to bury the present deep beneath the arcs of life, love towards the other brother, same yet very different, precise and yet deeply mortified for what they are, Marriage that is shared for better and worse that engulfs the lives that are surrounded that is affecting the generations yet to arrive and the promise that are promised to break, shattering the foundations of what could have been beautiful.

A novel, slow in pace, that does not make you laugh and yet make you close it, stare at the wall for a minute and go on with where it was left, only to realize, it was never really the end.

Buy yourself a copy here.

Reviewed by Pavan Kumar B C

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Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa [Book Review]

Ruins.jpgTitle : Ruins

Author : Rajith Savanadasa

ISBN : 9789351951216

Publisher : Hachette India

Genre : Contemporary

Pages : 341

Source : Publisher

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Ruins is Rajith Savanadasa’s debut novel and for a debut he’s done an exceptionally good job. Ruins, is set against the backdrop of Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of its civil war. It is the story of an ordinary family wrestling with the ever changing needs and wants of each member in a culturally vulnerable society.

The entire story is beautifully narrated from the point of view of each character, which consists of a family servant, Latha, who is at the verge of transforming, an overly assertive husband, Mano, his Tamil born, fretful wife Lakshmi, a distressed teenage daughter, Anoushka and self-centered, angry son, Niranjan.

First off, I love that the author decided to narrate the story from various points of view of the five central characters. Through this, he is subtly prodding us readers to see that our initial impression or opinion of the characters may not have been entirely right. Every character paints a completely different picture of every other character and the story itself, making you feel differently about each character in every chapter. I think that was brilliant.

The family saga subtly reflects the issues, fortunes, misfortunes, uncertainties, cross-border relationships faced by them, in a society with conflicting political and cultural views, pulling together centuries of tradition, post-war trauma and poverty.

The story is also broadly based on the ancient ‘moonstone’ (loosely translated from Sandakada Pahana). It is an historic artifact which represents the cycle of rebirth. The moonstone features animals that represent four stages of life: Birth (elephant), decay (bull), disease (lion) and death (horse). Savanadasa also briefly discusses the Buddhist concept of ‘rebirth’.

The author has used a mix of various ‘Tamil’ and ‘Sinhalese’ words and expressions in his narration and has done it so cleverly so the readers can understand the meaning from the context. He has presented the war vaguely as a conflict between order and terrorism, Sinhalese and Tamil. The war hasn’t been exclusively discussed in the book but the author has skillfully portrayed the post-war trauma and the society through the five central characters’ cracked lives.

All in all, Ruins is a promising, outstanding and skillfully crafted masterpiece, with interesting setting and vivid characters. The narration is deeply-moving with a description so evocative; it is bound to transport you to the heart of Colombo.

A hearty thanks to Hachette India for sending the review copy to The Booktrack team.

Buy a copy for yourself from Amazon here.

Neon Noon by Tanuj Solanki [Book Review]

Neon Noon.jpgTitle : Neon Noon

Author : Tanuj Solanki

ISBN : 9789350296943

Publisher : HarperCollins India

Genre : Contemporary Fiction

Pages : 224

Source : Publisher

Rating : 5 stars

“So your heartbreak happened recently?”

“Well, she left about a year back. Eleven months, more like. But how do I know just when my heart broke? How many days before she left did it begin to break? I don’t know that. The breaking has continued. But somehow the story tore and now even that tearing has to end. I would know if there was anymore to it. There is no more to it. This is the end. Though life goes on indifferently, you know, like cliches do, like truth does”

I am among those people who handle their books like a baby. Forget dog-ears or scribbling, I often bubble-wrap them before putting my book in the bag. For the first time, I used a highlighter to highlight the above lines and for a while I felt as if I did it involuntarily, a snap action that just happened!

Also, for the first time I had a whirlpool of weird thoughts while reading a fiction, such as- “I will re-read this book (something which I have never done) when I am intoxicated” or “I will just sit in solitude and read some line aloud (I am not telling which lines) to myself.”

Are you wondering that I am not making sense? This is exactly what this “trippy” book just did to me and how!

The protagonist works in corporate while nurturing his dream of writing a book. He loves her french girlfriend of four years whom he had met at the business school. One unfortunate day, she leaves him and goes back to Switzerland and he is left to crumble and shatter. Not sure how to deal with the heartache, he goes to Pattaya for a vacation looking for sex where he meets two people who are like important landmarks in his journey- One eases his heartache giving him a flicker of hope again, while the other has all the qualities of the son that he never had.

This simple plot has been put down by the author in an extremely esoteric and mind-rumbling prose. The litany of ambiguous thoughts, the confusion, the introspection, the guilt, the passion, the sex, the heartache- everything have been knitted together profoundly to produce this extraordinary form of writing which makes it further difficult to believe that this is the debut work of the author. The writing is divergent, haphazard and moody but without digressing too much. Needless to say, you feel a literary freshness while turning the pages and the book is sure to completely mesmerize you while you are on it.

Neon Noon is just NOT a “Book about Heartache”. It is about dissonant thoughts, ambiguous actions and hopeful encounters.

Also, I must thank HarperCollins India for sending me a review copy of the book. Buy a copy for yourself from Amazon here.

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