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Book Nook - 19-03-2018

Monday, March 19, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Lonely In The City
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine  by by Gail Honeyman has won the 2018 Costa Debut Novel Award, is longlisted for other prizes and is quite deservedly on the best-seller lists. Discovered through a writing competition, the author made a dream debut in her forties, with a book that turned out to be so popular.

The bitter-sweet story of Eleanor falls under the category of novels that have labelled ‘Up Lit’ –because, no matter what the protagonist goes through, the end is uplifting.

Eleanor has mentally shut out the traumas of her past, and lives with kind contentment that comes with being self-sufficient and following a steady routine. She works at a low paid accounting job at a graphics firm, where she has no friends.  The scar on her face and her weirdness—she speaks like a schoolmarm-- makes her co-workers slightly uncomfortable, which results in their making fun of her, often when she is within earshot.

Her strongest feature is her self-awareness, so that even while she cooks up unrealistic dreams of dating a handsome rocker, also stockpiles pills for a possible suicide in the future.  She has conversations with a nasty mother who is away, possibly in prison.

Her loneliness and comforting schedule are broken, first by the cheerful new techie, Raymond, and then by their helping an old man, Sam, who has a heart attack in the street. Suddenly, she has a friend, and through Sam’s family, a kind of social life she had never been part of earlier.

The reasons for Eleanor’s isolation are gradually revealed, and her suffering was horrific enough to drive a lesser person to a mental breakdown. To protect herself from more pain, Eleanor built a shield around herself, but she does not know how to get out of it.

At first, Raymond annoys her—he is unkempt and communicates in the internet shorthand, like U for You, that Eleanor thinks is illiterate.  But then she realizes that he is her friend, and does not expect anything from her, except to be his “plus one” at the parties Sam’s family throw. He is alone too, and looking after an elderly and disabled mother.

Eleanor babe-in-the-woods manner is both funny and poignant.  At one point she comments on her favourite mug, “I purchased it in a charity shop some years ago, and it has a photograph of a moon-faced man. He is wearing a brown leather blouson. Along the top, in strange yellow font, it says ‘Top Gear’. I don’t profess to understand this mug. It holds the perfect amount of vodka, however, thereby obviating the need for frequent refills.”

What the reader discovers, with her, is that to balance out cruelty, there is also inexplicable kindness. Like Sam’s daughter Laura giving her a makeover with a “mate’s rate”, which brings out the beauty hidden by her scar and wild hair. But Raymond befriends her in spite of her off-putting appearance and attitude, and shows her what life can be like if only she opens the windows and lets the light in.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine  could be seen as modern-day fairytale in which the characters are ordinary, but also special in their own way.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
By Gail Honeyman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 336

 

Excerpt of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
When people ask me what I do—taxi drivers, hairdressers—I tell them I work in an office. In almost eight years, no one's ever asked what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can't decide whether that's because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people hear the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves—lady doing photocopying, man tapping at a keyboard. I'm not complaining. I'm delighted that I don't have to get into the fascinating intricacies of accounts receivable with them. When I first started working here, whenever anyone asked, I told them that I worked for a graphic design company, but then they assumed I was a creative type. It became a bit boring to see their faces blank over when I explained that it was back office stuff, that I didn't get to use the fine-tipped pens and the fancy software.

I'm nearly thirty years old now and I've been working here since I was twenty-one. Bob, the owner, took me on not long after the office opened. I suppose he felt sorry for me. I had a degree in Classics and no work experience to speak of, and I turned up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm. Maybe he sensed, back then, that I would never aspire to anything more than a poorly paid office job, that I would be content to stay with the company and save him the bother of ever having to recruit a replacement. Perhaps he could also tell that I'd never need to take time off to go on honeymoon, or request maternity leave. I don't know.

It's definitely a two-tier system in the office; the creatives are the film stars, the rest of us merely supporting artists. You can tell by looking at us which category we fall into. To be fair, part of that is salary­ elated. The back office staff get paid a pittance, and so we can't af­ford much in the way of sharp haircuts and nerdy glasses. Clothes, music, gadgets-although the designers are desperate to be seen as freethinkers with unique ideas, they all adhere to a strict uniform.

Graphic design is of no interest to me. I'm a finance clerk. I could be issuing invoices for anything, really; armaments, Rohypnol, co­conuts.

From Monday to Friday, I come in at 8.30. I take an hour for lunch. I used to bring in my own sandwiches, but the food at home always went off before I could use it up, so now I get something from the high street. I always finish with a trip to Marks & Spencer on a Friday, which rounds off the week nicely. I sit in the staffroom with my sandwich and I read the newspaper from cover to cover, and then do the crosswords. I take the Daily Telegraph, not because I like it particularly, but because it has the best cryptic crossword. I don't talk to anyone–by the time I've bought my meal deal, read the paper and finished both crosswords, the hour is almost up. I go back to my desk and work till 5.30. The bus home takes half an hour.

I make supper and eat it while I listen to the Archers. I usually have pasta with pesto and salad–one pan and one plate. My childhood was full of culinary contradiction, and I've dined on both hand-dived scallops and boil-in-the-bag cod over the years. After much reflection on the political and sociological aspects of the table, I have realized that I am completely uninterested in food. My preference is for fodder hat is cheap, quick and simple to procure and prepare, whilst provid­ing the requisite nutrients to enable a person to stay alive.

After I've washed up, I read a book, or sometimes I watch televi­sion if there's a program the Telegraph has recommended that day. I usually (well, always) talk to Mummy on a Wednesdayevening for ten minutes or so. I go to bed around ten, read for half an hour and then put the light out. I don't have trouble sleeping, as a rule.
 
 

ALSO RECEIVED
What could possibly fill a spiritual vacuum that so many people go through in these troubled times. The summary of Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search For Something To Believe In says. “ Anjali Kumar, a pragmatic lawyer for Google, was part of a rapidly growing population in America: highly spiritual but religiously uncommitted. But when her daughter was born, she became compelled to find God--or at least some kind of enlightenment.

“Convinced that traditional religions were not a fit for her, and knowing that she couldn't simply Google an answer to "What is the meaning of life?", Kumar set out on a spiritual pilgrimage, looking for answers--and nothing was off limits or too unorthodox. She headed to the mountains of Peru to learn from the shamans, attended the techie haunt of Burning Man, practiced transcendental meditation, convened with angels, and visited saints, goddesses, witches, and faith healers. She even hired a medium to convene with the dead.

“Kumar's lighthearted story offers a revealing look at the timeless and vexing issue of spirituality in an era when more and more people are walking away from formal religions. Narrated from the open-minded perspective of a spiritual seeker rather than a religious scholar, Kumar offers an honest account of some of the less than mainstream spiritual practices that are followed by millions of people in the world today as she searches for the answers to life's most universal questions: Why are we here? What happens when we die? Is there a God?”

Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search For Something To Believe In
By Anjali Kumar
Publisher:  Hachette
Pages: 232

 
The Heartfulness Way is summarized thus, “As we manoeuvre the many demands of relationships, career, property and health, we often sense a void, a feeling of alienation from our true selves. Is it possible for one planet to orbit so many suns? We have many centres in our lives, yet where is the true centre, the deepest centre that lies at the core of every heart?

“Ensconced in India's ageless oral tradition, Kamlesh D. Patel - widely known as Daaji, the fourth guru in the Heartfulness lineage - traces a seeker's journey as he examines the nature of spiritual search. Through a series of illuminating conversations between a teacher and a student, Daaji reveals the core principles of the Heartfulness practice and philosophy to Joshua Pollock, a Heartfulness practitioner and trainer.

“From reflecting on the essence of prayer and yogic transmission to demystifying the act of meditation through practical tips, this book will enable us to live beyond the filters of our sensory limitations and discover unity within ourselves. To practise Heartfulness is to seek the essence beyond the form, the reality behind the ritual. It is to centre oneself at the core of one's heart and find true meaning and contentment there.”

The Heartfulness Way: Heart-based Meditations For Spiritual Transformation
By Kamlesh D. Patel & Joshua Pollock
Publisher: Westland
Pages: 195

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