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Archive for April, 2020

Years back I was collecting classics, especially the lesser known ones, and that is how I discovered ‘Bless the Beasts and Children‘ by Glendon Swarthout. I have wanted to read it for a long time, but somehow never got around to it. Recently, when Emma from ‘Book Around the Corner’ got the French translation of the book by the publisher Gallmeister (Do check out her beautiful post on Gallmeister editions here), I was quite excited, because I didn’t know anyone else who had this book or who had read it, and I was surprised that there was a new French translation. We talked about this book and decided to do a readalong.

Six boys ranging in age from twelve to sixteen, are there is a summer camp. They are here, because some of their parents feel that they are problematic children and they feel that this camp will help them. In the case of others, the parents have problems themselves and want their children out of their way. In the camp, children align naturally together as groups, and these six boys are left out because they are misfits. They get together as a group, but they struggle in most of the activities in the camp, coming last in most competitions. One day when their counsellor takes them out forward a drive, these six boys see something. And that experience leaves a profound impact in their heart. And they decide to do something about it. And what happens next is amazing. They take up an impossible project and we start cheering for them. Whether they succeed or not, you’ll know in the last page of the book.

I loved ‘Bless the Beasts and Children‘. The first half was a bit slow-paced as we get to know about the six main characters, and how they are struggling at camp, and we learn their backstories. We also wonder why they are doing something strange, and we want to know what is happening. When the surprise is revealed halfway through the book, the story kicks to another gear and the pages start flying. I loved all the six characters, especially, John Cotton, who is like their leader, and William Lally, the youngest member of the group who is twelve years old (or Lally 2, as he is called, because his elder brother, who is also part of the six, is Lally 1). The ending of the story is magnificent, gives goosebumps, but is also heartbreaking.

What about the ‘beasts’ in the title? Yes, of course, there are beasts in the story. Each of them is six feet tall, nine feet long and weighs more than 2000 pounds. One description in the book goes like this :

“…and suddenly, with a rumble and roar, something the size of a dinosaur came at them and a hot breath slapped their faces and they tumbled backward…”

So what exactly are these beasts? What do they have to do with the story? What is the relationship between them and our six characters? Why are our six getting into trouble and trying to poke the bear, or rather poke the beast here? Well, I can’t tell you more. It will take away the pleasure of the book, if you decide to read it. One thing I’ll say is this. This book depicts how big things, magnificent things can be achieved even by people who are regarded as misfits, if they keep at it and defy their detractors and fight against obstacles. The second thing I’ll say is this. This book also depicts the vast amount of harm humans have done to wildlife and the environment. It is hard to believe that as a group, humans are capable of so much cruelty, and it is harder to believe that normal people are part of this. It makes us think and it makes us sad.

I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book.

“In that place the wind prevailed. There was always sound. The throat of the canyon was hoarse with wind. It heaved through pines and passed and was collected by the cliffs. There was a phenomenon of pines in such a place. When wind died in a box canyon and in its wake the air was still and taut, the trees were not. The passing trembled in them, and a sough of loss. They grieved. They seemed to mourn a memory of wind.”

“It was that last, impotent hour between darkness and dawn, when men buy truth and sell illusions.”

You can find Emma’s review at her blog.

Have you read ‘Bless the Beasts and Children‘? What do you think about it?

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I was in the mood for a thick, sprawling novel into which I’ll be able to immerse myself and so I decided to read ‘The Crimson Petal and the White‘ by Michel Faber. It has been on my bookshelf for years and I am glad I finally took it down and read it.

Sugar is a nineteen year old prostitute who lives in 1870s London. One day a rich man comes to see her. He is so enamoured by her that he signs a contract with the woman running the house to release her for a big sum of money. He rents out a spacious house in a nice locality and Sugar goes to live there as this rich man’s mistress. One things leads to another after that and Sugar’s life is transformed beyond recognition – I won’t tell you more, you have to read the book and find out what happened, yourself.

The Crimson Petal and the White‘ is a 900-page chunkster, the longest book I’ve read this year, the longest book I’ve read in a while. It was exciting to start reading and before I knew I was a hundred pages in. Michel Faber’s prose was beautiful, there were many beautiful sentences, the first chapters were amazingly narrated (more on that soon). But, as often happens with big books, after the initial aura fades, the reader has to do the hardwork, the grunt work, read one sentence after another, keep the pages turning. I took a break one-third of the way into the book, and I was worried I may not get back to it, because this happens to me all the time, I take a break from a chunkster, and that is the end of it, and it ends up being half read. But that didn’t happen here – I got back and continued reading one sentence after another, fought with the mountain of pages everyday, till the tide turned one day, and I won. Today, I turned the last page, and I’m happy to be on the other side. Reading a chunkster is always challenging and getting to the last page is always a huge accomplishment. I am so proud I got there.

The start of the book is very fascinating. The narrator takes our hand and leads us into 1870s London and we get a guided tour of the less fancied parts of the city and this continues for a while, and it makes us fall in love with the book. One of my favourite characters, Caroline, makes her appearance in those first few pages of the book, and though she plays only a minor part in the rest of the story, she speaks one some of my favourite lines in the story, and continues to be one of my favourite characters till the end of the book. Sugar, of course, is the central character of the book, and she is fascinating and complex. There is also another interesting character called Emmeline Fox. The book can be described as Dickensian in its style and scope, but it is probably the dark version of Dickensian. The ending is very interesting and makes us contemplate a lot, but I am not going to tell you anything, because I don’t want to reveal the plot.

Have you read ‘The Crimson Petal and the White‘? What do you think about it?

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