A New Favorite: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Why is it that the books that have the biggest impact on you are also the hardest to talk about?
I finished Commonwealth on the flight back home to visit my family and friends. As the feeling of nostalgia threatened to overwhelm me, the book seemed like the perfect fit for the situation.
This book is about what home means. Beyond its tangible/physical meaning, what is home intangibly? It can be a person, a memory, a feeling, even the past, so much so that the present doesn’t feel like home. It asks the question – where do you feel you belong? And when is the last time you felt with absolute certainty that you WERE home?
It’s about families. Dysfunctional families to whom I am SLIGHTLY addicted to in literature. Families who are strongly bound and also families whose bonds are so superficial that they don’t take anything to rupture. Also, families that last even after the rupture. It’s the story of relationships – between parents, siblings, spouses. Irresponsible parents and their responsible children. Ultimately, love, hope and a shared past being the only things that can make a family last.
What else? It’s about human beings. About bad decisions, weaknesses, selfishness, dreams lost and found, insecurities and inability to live up to others’ aspirations.
There are no big issues that the book talks about. It’s about one experiences everyday, what one sees everyday. Yet, somehow this book about ‘everyday’ has lingered in my mind ever since.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
I came to this book after finishing the second book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels expecting to read about more amazing, inspiring, real women, and I am very sorry to say I was hugely disappointed. This has turned out to be my first DNF of the year.
This book is brimming with half fleshed out women – who are either very mysterious or very eccentric, with little or no dimensionality. Magical Realism overpowers any real character development. Maybe magical realism is something that I have outgrown. And the only major male character (at least till where I had read) represents everything that is patriarchal and violent – which I detest.
In the end, I had to give up. There are so many books waiting. However, I do feel guilty about giving up on a ‘classic’.
Orkney by Amy Sackville
After having adored Amy Sackville’s ‘The Still Point’, I had expected a similar experience. Unfortunately, this was a disappointment.
This is the story of a vainglorious Literature Professor who marries his young and brilliant student. The story follows their honeymoon in Orkney – a place almost out of mythology to match the mythological nature of the Professor’s mysterious wife. His obsession with his wife takes over him completely as he can think of nothing else but her – his moods varying between yearning, insecurity and extreme jealousy.
Amy Sackville’s poetic writing & atmosphere creation is something I had loved in ‘The Still Point’, but these are the very things that I feel compromised on the character development in this book. Yes, I understand that both the Professor and his wife, especially his wife, were SUPPOSED to be out of reach from the readers. I was SUPPOSED to look at the wife through the Professor’s yearning eyes – reducing his wife’s human characteristics to a mere idol to be worshiped, as if she had no real thoughts, voice, dreams or dimensionality other than being the object of the Professor’s desire. That is the very thing that creeped me out utterly.
Both the characters come across as equally lifeless ultimately. And the ‘tragic’ end made absolutely no impact on me.
Well, onto better books then.