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Archive for March, 2011

I discovered ‘Love Virtually’ by Daniel Glattauer (published as ‘Gut gegen Nordwind’ in German), during one of my browsing sessions at the bookstore. The way these browsing sessions yield up treasures is amazing! I finished reading it recently. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the inside flap of the book.

It begins by chance : Leo receives e-mails in error from an unknown woman called Emmi. Being polite he replies, and Emmi writes back. A few brief exchanges are all it takes to spark a mutual interest in each other, and soon Emmi and Leo are sharing their innermost secrets and desires. The erotic tension simmers, and it seems only a matter of time before they will meet in person. But they keep putting off the moment – the prospect both excites and unsettles them. And after all, Emmi is happily married. Will their feelings for each other survive the test of a real-life encounter?

And if so, what then?

What I think

‘Love Virtually’ is a novel which is composed entirely of emails. I have heard of, or read, other novels based on emails before – for example, ‘e’ by Matt Beaumont and ‘Who Moved My Blackberry’ by Lucy Kellaway. But both these were comic novels set in the workplace. ‘Love Virtually’ is a novel which touches more on the romantic side of the internet world, on people becoming friends with strangers whom they meet online and falling in love with them. It is about two people who meet accidentally over email and how they become friends and talk about anything and everything, how they start playfully flirting with each other and how things start moving closer after that. In some ways it is a novel of modern times, a novel of our age, where people have more Email / Facebook / Twitter friends than real-world friends and the dividing line between the real-world and the virtual world is getting blurred and is disappearing. The conversations between Leo and Emmi, the two main characters, are interesting and in some places quite fascinating. The ending of the book was surprising and bittersweet but in some ways predictable.

Excerpts

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

Guessing the age

You write like a thirty-year old. But you’re around forty, let’s say forty-two. What makes me think I’m right? A thirty-year-old doesn’t read Like on a regular basis. The average age of Like subscribers is around fifty. But you’re younger, because you work with websites, so you could be thirty or even a fair bit younger than that. On the other hand, no thirty-year-old sends a mass e-mail to clients to wish them “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”. And finally, your name is Emmi, i.e. Emma. I know three Emmas and they’re all over forty. Thirty-year-olds aren’t called Emma. It’s only people under twenty who are Emmas again. But you’re not under twenty, or you’d use words like “cool”, “wicked”, “lush”, “totally”, “awesome” and suchlike. And you wouldn’t begin sentences with capital letters, or write in full sentences either. But more importantly, you’d have better things to do than chat with a humourless man who might or might not be a professor and be interested in  how young or old he thinks you might be. Another thing about “Emmi” : if your name were Emma, and you wrote as if you were younger – perhaps because you felt much younger than you were – you wouldn’t call yourself Emma, but Emmi. In short, my dear Emmi Rothner, you write as if you’re thirty, but in fact you’re forty-two. Am I right? Your shoe size is 36. You are petite, bubbly, and you’ve got short, dark hair. And you effervesce when you speak. Am I right?

Thinking and loving

I’m thinking of you a lot, in the mornings, in the afternoons, in the evenings, at night, in the periods in-between and just before and after – and also during.

(Comment : Has the love of one person for another been articulated more passionately than this? :))

Unusual expectation

Isn’t it exciting that you can get involved with someone you don’t know, someone you’ve never set eyes on and probably never will, someone you expect nothing from, of whom you can’t be sure that you’ll ever get anything halfway adequate in return? That’s very unusual in a man, and that’s what I like about you.

The Middle

So you’re a man who’s only interested in a woman at tbe beginning and at the end : when he wants to get her, and just before he’s about to lose her for good. You find the time in between – which some people call “being together” – either too boring or too stressful, or both.

Family Life and Perfection

My family life is good, but by no means perfect. “Family life” as such has very little to do with perfection, and a great deal to do with endurance, patience, indulgence and children’s dislocated arms. And here allow me to draw on my years of experience which – I’m sorry to say – you and Mia lack. “Family idyll” is an oxymoron : you can have family or idyll, but not both.

Nothing to say

Leo : It’s sad, Emmi, we’ve got nothing more to say to each other.

Emmi : Maybe we never did.

Leo : Well, for two people who’ve got nothing to say to each other, we’ve been chatting away one hell of a lot.

Talking for the first time

When you’re talking to someone for the first time, questions are quite hard to say out loud. Particularly for women. Women are at a vocal disadvantage with questions, because their voices have to go up at the end of a sentence, i.e. they’re forced up into the higher registers. And if they’re nervous as well, they might make gurgling noises. Do you know what I mean? Gurgling feels stupid.

“toes”

What stunned me most of all, Emmi, was how you say the word “toes”. I’ve never heard such a graceful, soft, dusky, clear “toes” before, and I’d never have imagined you would say it like that. No shrieking, nor gurgling, no crowing. A really beautiful, soft, elegant, sleek, gentle, tiptoed “toes”. And “whisky”, that sounded really classy too. The “wh” like a rope swishing through the air; the “ky” like a key to you…hmm…bedroom.

(Comment : I loved this passage, for its generous and beautiful use of adjectives :))

 

“What do you have in mind?”

Emmi : What do you have in mind, Leo? You’re the one wanting this…meeting, may I remind you.

Leo : I’ve got nothing at all in mind. I just want to see the woman who’s been with me for months, who’s made a mark on my life. I want to hear more of her lovely voice, more than “whisky” and “toes”. I want to watch her lips as she says, “What do you have in mind, Leo? You’re the one who wanted this…meeting, may I remind you.” How do the corners of her mouth move, how do her eyes shine, how do her eyebrows rise when she utters sentences like these? What expression does she have when she’s being ironic? What traces have the years of nightly north wind left on her cheeks? Hundreds of things like these interest me about Emmi.

A Little Bit

Emmi : Are you still just a little bit in love with me?

Leo : A little bit?

Emmi : Goodnight. I’m very much in love with you. I’m terrified of our meeting. I can’t imagine – I can hardly bear to imagine – that then I’m going to lose you.

Hailstorm

A hailstorm’s like a taste of the end of the world. You’ve got this strange ochre veil hanging over the sky, all of a sudden it’s covered by a dark-grey curtain, and then billions of these white pebbles hurtle to earth at breakneck speed.

“Real Life”

Dear Leo, please try to put yourself in my shoes. I must confess I haven’t had such an intense emotional exchange with anyone for a long time. I’d never have believed that this was possible. In my e-mails to you I can be the real Emmi, in a way that I can’t be at any other time. In what we call “real life” – if you want to be successful, if you want to get on in the long term – you always have to come to some kind of compromise with your own emotions : I can’t overreact now! I have accept this! I have to ignore that! – You’re forever having to tailor your emotions to the circumstances, you go easy on the people you love, you slip into your hundred little daily roles, you juggle, you balance, you weigh things up so as not to jeopardize the entire structure, because you yourself have a stake in it.

Private Life

Yesterday you wrote : “We must not start intruding into each other’s private life.” I’ve got something to tell you : what we’re doing here, the things we’re talking about, they already belong to our private lives. They’re private and nothing but, starting with our very first  e-mails and steadily escalating until today. We don’t write about our jobs, we don’t say what our interests, or our hobbies. We behave as if there’s no such thing as culture, we completely ignore politics, and by and large we get by without even mentioning the weather. The only thing we do, the thing that makes us forget everything else, is to intrude into each other’s private life; I enter yours, and you enter mine. We could hardly have been more intrusive into each other’s private life. You should start facing the fact that you’re intimately acquainted with my private life, if not the part of it that you call my favourite subject. I might even say that the situation couldn’t be more different.

Final Thoughts

‘Love Virtually’ is a delightful modern love story. The back page says that the sequel to this book, ‘Every Seventh Wave’, is coming out this year. I can’t wait to read it. If you are an internet / email person, you will be able to identify with this book and you will love it. I did.

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I discovered ‘When I Lived in Modern Times’ by Linda Grant, when I was browsing randomly in the bookstore sometime back. When I read the summary of the story at the back, I couldn’t resist it. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is the review.   

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

It is April 1946. Evelyn Sert, 20 years old, a hairdresser from Soho, sails for Palestine, where Jewish refugees and idealists are gathering from across Europe to start a new life in a brand new country.

In the glittering cosmopolitan Bauhaus city of Tel Aviv, anything seems possible – the new self, the new Jew, the new woman are all feasible. Evelyn, adept at disguises, dyes her hair and reinvents herself. Immersed in a world of fiery idealism, she falls in love with the passionate Johnny and finds herself at the heart of a very dangerous game.

 

 
What I think  
 
 ‘When I Lived in Modern Times’ is set in Israel / Palestine of the late 1940s, just before the British leave Palestine and Israel becomes a new country. Linda Grant’s description of Tel Aviv of that time is quite beautiful and transports the reader to a different time and place. She also evokes the complex atmosphere of those times, when the world was in the cusp of major changes, when big ideas were doing the rounds and the future was uncertain but seemed to be filled with promise. I don’t know a lot about Israeli / Jewish history, beyond what I have read in the Bible and what I have read sometimes in the newspapers (and typically these days it is about the Israeli government harassing the Palestinians), and so it was fascinating to read in this book about that period in history leading up to the founding of modern Israel. Grant portrays the complex situation so beautifully – the interesting relationship between the British and the Arabs and the Jews, the relationship between the Jews who came from Eastern Europe and others, the German Jews who were more German than Jewish, the Jews who had come from the former Soviet Union and who lived in the kibbutz and who had socialist ideals, Evelyn Sert, the heroine, who feels that she has multiple identities (she feels English some times and Jewish at other times), people like Johnny who are fighting for a free Jewish homeland and British expats of that time, who are obsessed with their dogs and gardens but who don’t seem to have many convictions (one of them says ‘I’m just here with a box of rules and my job is to get people to obey them. I don’t make the rules. I don’t care about them one way or another. I’m not a passionate man. I don’t take sides. I’ve never seen a side worth taking’) and who are overseeing the end of the empire. 

I loved the portrayal of the heroine Evelyn Sert. In some ways it is her coming-of-age story, of the idealism which is prevalent in the atmosphere during those times and how individuals get sucked into it in unlikely ways and how things when they pan out look very different from one’s dreams and vision. The ending of the book was sad in some ways, because it felt like the end of a dream and one couldn’t help wondering how things might have been. Evelyn encapsulates this when she says this towards the end of the book :

If there is a story, there is going to be an ending and another thing life has taught me is that not many of them are about people who lived happily ever after. 

Excerpts

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

The Mystery of the Orient

      I walked through the town to the office of the Jewish Agency, got lost and found myself in an Arab market. It was strange beyond belief. The air smelled of things I didn’t know or understand. Eventually I would be able to recognise the difference between cardamom and cumin to know that the round, flat things were bread and that the bulbous, purple objects were vegetables with the name aubergine. I had never seen a lime, let alone a prickly pear. Palm trees, removed from the artistic impressions of them in paintings, were smaller and browner than I expected and didn’t have coconut hanging from them, but dates.

      In the balmy, delicious air, with a light sweat which would soon become a second skin, I felt my centre dissolve. The things I seemed to have always known (like a popular song you can’t remember hearing for the first time) were useless : how to judge whether or not to heed an air-raid warning; how to increase one’s allowance of chocolate; where to obtain black-market stockings. I was going to find out that what I needed to know was how to distinguish whether something was eligible; how to avoid dengue fever; and how to work out who was an Arab and who was a  when surprisingly they sometimes looked much the same if you saw them walking the streets of the cities in a suit or a summer dress.

The beautiful note

      He had heard a saxophone on the radio and wanted more than anything else to play one himself, though he wasn’t sure what it might look like. The kibbutz council agreed that if any member ever came across a saxophone and secured it for the general good of the whole community Gadi would have first priority in learning to make music from it. But no one had the slightest idea if there was such a thing in the whole of Palestine. Not, they thought, even in the palm-court orchestra that played in the ballrooms of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. If a saxophone was to be found it was bound to be in the possession of an American who was unlikely to part with it for anything other than a hefty price.

      And this was Gadi’s sorrow, at twenty, to have heard a sound that resonated somewhere inside him and for it to live only in his head, growing less clear, more invented, as the memory of it receded.

Memories

“We find it harder and harder to regain the rapture we once felt. There are memories I have of my childhood and youth in Russia, from before the time of the revolution, which I keep safe in a strongroom of my mind, because I fear that if I think about them too much I will wear them out. I have memories of our earliest years in Palestine which have eroded and become not the thing itself, but only a memory of a memory. Sometimes, all recapture is the mood I was in the last time I went into that portion of the past, or the place where I was, and what comes is the sound of the waves on the lake, or the road into the hills, or a cafe in Tiberias, where I was sitting with a glass of tea and a pastry…

Who is a Jew?

      Talking to Leah was like looking through a sheet of glass. Everything was crystal clear and I was exhilarated. She was the new kind of woman herself, the kind who thought with her brains, not her womb; who took no notice of hair styles but wanted more than a life of rural servitude; who sized people up and recognised them for what they were; who knew what she wanted and how to get it; who did not live through men.

      ‘But despite everything you say,’ I told her, ‘I still want to be a Jew in a Jewish land.’

      ‘What do you think a Jew is? Am I a Jew, for example?’

      ‘Of course.’

      ‘How? I have no religion, just the same as you. The British call us Jews to distinguish us from the Arabs but when teh British are gone, then who will we be? It is always other people who define what a Jew is…’

The Secret Fragrance

I looked at the hand as it held mine. It was a man’s hand. The palm was dry. Under the smell of palm oil another scent was coming through, of petrol and cheap soap, and it mingled together into the scent of something that no cosmetics company had ever captured in a bottle, what we used to call back then, sex appeal.

Understanding

Our eyes met. Sometimes a flash of complicity is established between two people, and you don’t know why. Connections get made below the level of what you can understand. I understand it now. Looking at Johnny was like looking at myself in the mirror. Each of us existed as a reflecting surface.

How the Messiah will preach today

      Cakes seemed to be the principal sustenance of the inhabitants of Tel Aviv and Netanya. The cafes sold many kinds: gateaux with cream, like the Belgians made in Soho; tortes from Vienna made with glazes of apricot jam; cheesecakes from Poland and Russia; and tiny syrupy, flaky things, decorated with small green nuts. All these you could have at any time of the day or night in Tel Aviv and it was said that if the Messiah was ever to return to the Holy Land he would have to go to the cafes to deliver his message to the people.

Violinists and Pianists

‘You know what they used to say ten years ago? Anyone who arrived off the boat without a violin case was presumed to be a pianist’.

Paints of different types

With paint, what you saw on your palette and dipped your brush into would be much the same colour on the surface to which you applied it. Not so with hair dye, for hair is a living substance (emerging from teh part of ourselves which is closest to the brain) so the principles of hairdressing were those of uncertainty and experimentation based, if one had it, on a sound chemical knowledge of the structure of the hair and what affected its disposition – to be straight or curly, pale or dark, thick or thin.

Dreams and the Subconscious

      ‘Didn’t you have dreams when you were a child?’

      ‘No, never. Listen, I exhaust myself during the day. I go to bed, I’m unconscious until I get up. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. This dream you tell me you just had, why should I envy you for that? I’m glad I don’t have to deal with such chaos every night.’

      ‘But dreams are messages from our subconscious.’

      ‘I don’t believe in the subconscious. I’ve heard of it, but I don’t believe in it. It’s neurotic, the product of a mind that sed and conflicted and doesn’t see things as they should be. You give me a problem and I can solve it. I don’t think there is any problem so big that I’m not capable of finding a solution if I apply my brain. I don’t worry about it, I don’t have anxiety, I don’t brood. It’s like repairing the Norton. Everything is straightforward if you know how the machine was built. Everything has a structure which is visible to the naked eye and logical. In Eretz Israel, so help me God, there will be no head doctors.’

Isaiah and Tolstoy

      ‘Oh that, we’ve all got one. It’s a biblical quotation,’ she said.

      ‘Read it to me.’

      ‘It says, Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee, hide thyself, as if it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. Very comforting, I’m sure.’

      Blum looked at his. ‘It’s taken from the prophet Isaiah,’ he told us.

      ‘I had no idea you were religious, Blum,’ Mrs Linz said.

      ‘I am not. But I read Isaiah from time to time. He is full of gloom and despair and baleful warnings to the Jewish people. He suits our age. I prefer him to Tolstoy.’

      ‘Barbarian,’ said Mrs Linz. ‘Read Thomas Mann and Musil. Dare to be modern, Blum.’

To be used

      ‘You used me?’

      ‘Darling, isn’t it better to be used than to be of no use to anyone?’

      I could make no answer to this.

Decisions and Hindsight

      With hindsight it always seems easy to do the right thing, but we were trying to decide something in those days that people don’t often get a chance to have a say in and it was this : would we be a free nation after two thousand years of wandering or would we always be a subject race? Would we be ghetto Jews or new Jews? You know, when you face a decision like that, you have to think very, very carefully. The chance might not come again for another two thousand years. You have to be very sure. But you do have to decide, you can’t avoid that.

Happy Marriages

(Warning : This passage has some spoilers. So please be forewarned).

      As marriages go, mine turned out to be a successful one and only those who have never married themselves would ask if it were happy or unhappy. It was an accommodation, a partnership. It was a life not a love affair and there is a difference. Love affairs belong to the young or to those who don’t have a life, or not a proper one, at any rate. Leo and I had a life. But all those years, after I had been turned back on the brink of the great homecoming, mine was a heart in exile, a heart that is thwarted. The only consolation I can draw from this is the thought that perhaps the heart that has loved and suffered is the only one worth having, and Leo told me once of a talmudic saying, that there is nothing so whole as a broken heart.

Final Thoughts  
 
‘When I Lived in Modern Times’ won the Orange Prize in 2000, and I can see why. My review is extremely inadequate and doesn’t do justice to this wonderful book. It is one of my favourite books of the year till now, and I hope to read this book again, atleast my favourite passages, which are too many and which are there in every page. Linda Grant is a wonderful new discovery for me and I can’t wait to read other books by her. Recommended.

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Last weekend was concert time. I discovered that there was a concert on Saturday, in SPACES, which is a beautiful venue near the beach. It looks like a traditional Indian house having open rooms, some of which can be used for prayers, for organizing talks and for concerts and dance performances. The last time I went to SPACES was sometime near New Year’s Eve, to see a dance performance choreographed by Chandralekha. This time when I discovered that there was going to be a concert there, I couldn’t resist going. British singer Suki Osman was slated to perform at the concert and later a local band was planning to belt popular numbers.     

The concert started at around 7.30PM. Suki Osman went to the stage, took her seat, put the guitar on her lap and started playing it. Soft sounds emanated from the instrument – I never knew that the guitar could be so soft – and Suki started singing along. The melodious cadences of Suki’s voice merged with the soft sounds of her guitar. Suki’s voice rose like a wave smoothly and plunged the depths with line after line of sensual, soft lyrics and the soft music of her guitar accompanied her on the musical journey, taking the audience to a different world, a world of magic. My favourite song of the evening was ‘Here Before You’. It was soft, sensual, lyrical, luscious, entrancing. If you like, you can find it here. I hope Suki releases her album soon. I can’t wait to get it and listen to it.

During the concert there was a soft ‘meow’ sound. A beautiful brownish cat stopped by, showed its affection to some members of the audience and left. Or atleast I thought so. After a while, I heard a soft ‘meow’ sound on my right and I saw our beautiful brownish friend sniffing my bag which had the snacks I had brought for munching during the break. Then it started to tussle with the bag, which alarmed me and I had to lift this delightful ball of fur and put it on my lap. She stayed on my lap for sometime, while I rubbed her back and her ears and her neck and below her chin, while she purred with pleasure. After a while her feline restlessness got the better of her and she got up and walked out of the auditorium into the dark.      

Later, Suki sang songs with other singers and one of them was an ode to Chennai. Then the local band took over and sang some popular songs. Then the concert suddenly got over. The expected break never came. I felt that the concert got over before it started.

I got up and left. I took a long walk along the beach munching my snacks, watching people walking with their pets, lovers holding hands and whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears and families with children running on the beach. I got a drink, which was a kind of flavoured milk preparation, on the way, and caught a taxi home.

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Sometime back I did some research on whether some of the one-off authors I had read had written other books. One of the authors I did research on was Michael Harvey, whose ‘The Chicago Way’ I liked very much. It is a murder mystery / thriller kind of book, in the Chandlersque style set in modern day Chicago. The main character in this book, Michael Kelly, was a private investigator. Kelly’s speciality was that he quoted ancient Greek and Latin literature during important scenes in the story. From that perspective he was unique and different from other heroes. When searching for other Michael Harvey books I discovered that he had written two more and the next book in the series involving Michael Kelly was ‘The Fifth Floor’. I was quite excited to know that and so I ordered the book and got it. I picked it up a couple of days back because I was in the mood for some light reading and I finished it today. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the book as given in the back cover of the book.

When Michael Kelly is hired by an ex-fiance to tail her abusive husband, what looks like a bread-and-butter domestic dispute turns out to be more than he bargained for. The tail leads him to a body and the answer to one of Chicago’s most enduring mysteries : who started the Great Fire of 1871 and why.

As he explores further he is drawn into a web of corruption and intrigue. A mysterious enemy is out to frame him for murder and rewrite the past he didn’t even know he had. Soon Kelly will find himself in the last place he wants to be – City Hall’s fifth floor, where the mayor is feeling the heat and looking to silence any investigations.

Michael Kelly, the tough-talking Irish cop turned private investigator first encountered in The Chicago Way, returns in an equally stylish, hard-boiled follow-up that cements Harvey’s credentials as heir apparent to Leonard and Chandler.

What I think

The book started off well. The first page went like this :

      I pushed the slim volume of poetry across my desk and into her lap. The woman with auburn hair, perfect posture, and a broken life picked it up.

      “I can’t read this,” she said, and lifted her head.

      “That’s because it’s in Latin,” I said. “Why don’t you take off the sunglasses?”

      “Why don’t you translate for me?”

      “Take off the glasses.”

      The woman slid the dark frames up and off her face. Her left eye was green and watering. Her right was black and swollen shut. The cheekbone below it offered a study in shades of purple, blue, and yellow.

      “You get the picture?” she said.

      “The poem is by Catullus. First line reads Odi et amo. Translates as I hate and I love.”

      “And this is my life?”

      “People say it’s a love poem, but they’re wrong. It’s about abuse, about not being able to get out, even when the door is wide open and the whole world is yelling that very thing in your ear.”

After reading the first page, I thought Harvey and Kelly will be in top form and I thought I will be reading another rip-roaring thriller like ‘The Chicago Way’. But unfortunately, the plot became complex and after a while it wasn’t even clear what the main plot was. Was it about the ex-finacee’s abusive husband? Or was it about the Great Fire? Or was it about the corruption? Or was it about the mayor? The story moves into and across these different threads without any focus and in the end it tries to tie up the loose ends. Even the Greek / Latin literature references were not many. There is a prison scene where Michael Kelly has a fight with a fellow prisoner. It was interesting to read, but the best prison scene I have read is in ‘Killing Floor’ by Lee Child – it is really wonderful.

Some of the characters who appeared in ‘The Chicago Way’ also come in ‘The Fifth Floor’. One of them undergoes a huge transformation and from a distinguished judge becomes the hero’s love interest. This is Rachel Swenson’s description in ‘The Chicago Way’ :

Rachel got up in one motion. She had that Grace Kelly in Rear Window sort of movement. An immaculate, elegant flow you couldn’t learn or even think about. Unless you didn’t have it, that is. Then it was all you thought about.

In ‘The Fifth Floor’ Rachel is described like this :

      Rachel was wearing jeans and a pale blue sweater. Her eyes matched the sweater. Her teeth were white and her hair carried a hint of honey. She had some sort of shiny lipstick on and a touch of blush across her cheekbones. Her nails were hard and clear with white tips. They tapped a tattoo on my kitchen counter and waited.

The ‘Grace Kelly’ description was one of my alltime favourites. When I read the first book, the image of Rachel Swenson was that of a graceful queen, who was refined, sophisticated, beautiful and beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. In the second book she becomes a mere mortal. In some ways it was sad.

Overall I have to say I was a little bit disappointed and the book was not satisfying. That is the bad news. What is the good news?

The first page of the book started pretty well. I think that is an awesome first page 🙂 The book was fast-paced and the pages flew by. I finished the book before I knew it. Also, there is the character of the mayor in the story, who is quite interesting. Once upon a time, while reading books like this, I would have hated a character like that of the mayor. But now, after becoming older and wiser, I have to say that the character of the mayor is depicted quite well in the book in all its complexity – it depicts beautifully how a politician has to worry about good governance and getting things done and realize a noble vision and how he also has to play nasty games to stay in power and how easy it is to see things in black-and-white but how reality is filled with grey. I actually liked the mayor’s character very much.

For a supposedly hard-boiled thriller, there is this beautiful description towards the end of the story.

      Willie gestured down to the box on the table between us. For the first time I registered holes, poked into the box’s cover.

      “Mayor wants you to have this.”

      Willie took off the top. Inside was a pink baby’s blanket. Nestled inside the blanket was a puppy, brown and white teeth with long ears and gold markings.

      “What’s this?”

      “The mayor’s springer had her litter. Mayor says you need one. Told me to make sure you got a female.”

      I looked down. The pup opened one yee, then the other. I tried to look away, but it wasn’t easy. The pup yawned and rolled over on her back. Apparently, it was time for a belly rub.

      “Pick her up, Kelly.”

      I did. The pup licked the side of my face, burrowed her head into my chest, and promptly fell asleep. I looked over at Willie, who was fighting it but smiling all the same.

***

      The cabbie dropped e in front of my flat. I carried Her Highness upstairs and put her down just inside the front door. The as-yet-to-be-named pup took a look around and another look back at me. Then she made her way into the bedroom. I followed. She was sitting on the floor and staring up at my bed. I shook my head no. The pup had other ideas. She got a running start, bounced off the side of my box spring, and landed snout first, on the floor. I laughed. The pup yelped. She might have considered it a bark, but, trust me, she was kidding herself. I leaned against the door frame and watched as she took another go at the promised land, otherwise known as a soft mattress. The pup came up short again, hitting the ground, butt first this time, with a thud. She got up a bit slower, walked over, and sat down in front of me.

      “What do you want me to do?”

      She cocked her head, wagged her tail, stretched her paws out in front of her, and wriggled her butt in the air. I’d discover later this was a signal. The pup wanted to play. At the time, I thought she was probably going to go to the bathroom. Instead, she yelped again. Once, twice. Then a whole series of them. Finally, I did what any new parent would do. I caved, picked up the pup, and set her down on the bed. She ran around in circles for half a minute or so, then found a spot on my pillow. Thirty seconds later, she was asleep again. I turned off the light and closed the door.

It is a lovely description of a sweet creature, isn’t it?

Final Thoughts

So, what do I think about ‘The Fifth Floor’? I think it gave some interesting information about the Great Fire in Chicago in 1871. It is a fast-paced read. The story is not that great, but it has its redeeming features. Will I read another book by Michael Harvey? As he has written just one more called ‘The Third Rail’, I would like to give it a try. When I read the blurb, it looked like a screenplay-friendly book 🙂

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Loving a book

I read this beautiful passage by Donna Tartt (author of ‘The Secret History’). This passage was part of her introduction to the book ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis, which was made into a movie recently and was in the news because this movie was nominated for the Oscars this year.

 

It’s a commonplace to say that we ‘love’ a book, but when we say it, we really mean all sorts of things. Sometimes we mean only that we have read a book and enjoyed it; sometimes we mean that a book was important to us in our youth, though we haven’t picked it up in years; sometimes what we ‘love’ is an impressionistic idea glimpsed from afar (Combray…madeleines…Tante Leonie…) as opposed to the experience of wallowing and plowing through an actual text, and all too often people claim to love books they haven’t read at all. Then there are the books we love so much that we read them every year or two, and know passages of them by heart; that cheer us when we are sick or sad and never fail to amuse us when we take them up at random; that we press on all our friends and acquaintances; and to which we return again and again with undimmed enthusiasm over the course of a lifetime. I think it goes without saying that most books that engage readers on this very high level are masterpieces; and this is why I believe that True Grit by Charles Portis is a masterpiece.

 

– From the introduction by Donna Tartt to ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis

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