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Book Nook - 16-02-2015

Monday, February 16, 2015
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 [email protected]

Off The Tracks
Rachel Watson commutes to and from London every day, and from the window she sees couple she names Jess and Jason, and in her mind gives them ideal lives.

She is an alcoholic and her life is in the dumps. After her marriage to Tom broke down, he married a pretty young woman, Anna, who promptly gave him a much-wanted child. She lives as a lodger with the kindly Cathy, who puts up with her craziness.  She hasn’t the courage to confess even to her only friend that she lost her job months ago and pretends to go to work every day, spending her time in a boozy haze.

She drunk dials Tom constantly, and makes a nuisance of herself, because she is seldom sober to even feel embarrassed. Her old home is a few doors down from that of her ‘Golden Couple’ so every time the row of houses appear by the tracks, her anguish multiples.

Then, one day, she sees ‘Jess’ kissing another man, and soon after comes news that the woman, whose real name is Megan, has gone missing and her husband, Scott, is the prime suspect. Suddenly the life of the lovely couple seems even more sordid than her own, and only she knows of the other man. Because of her obvious mental instability, the cops treat her with contempt. Much to Rachel’s despair, she knows there was something that she witnessed the night Megan disappeared, but she has a memory blackout.

Paula Hawkins’s debut novel, has zoomed up the bestselling charts, and its success is being compared to that of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Rachel is a pathetic woman to have as a protagonist, but that does not take away from the suspense that is revealed gradually. The story is told in the voices of Rachel, Megan and Anna—all three women trying to find happiness with unworthy men, and all going through varying degrees of suburban ennui. The rail tracks by their homes and the trains passing up and down all promise escape and adventure that they will never have.

In every chapter some new fact springs out and the fate of Megan seems to be linked to all the characters.  There is some monotony in Rachel’s falling on and off the wagon, but still, it’s a very good read.

The Girl On The Train
By Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead
Pages: 336

Excerpt from The Girl On The Train
There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth—a shirt, perhaps—jumbled up with something dirty white. It’s probably rubbish, part of a load dumped into the scrubby little wood up the bank. It could have been left behind by the engineers who work this part of the track, they’re here often enough. Or it could be something else. My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can’t help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe and the feet that fitted into them.

The train jolts and scrapes and screeches back into motion, the little pile of clothes disappears from view and we trundle on towards London, moving at a brisk jogger’s pace. Someone in the seat behind me gives a sigh of helpless irritation; the 8:04 slow train from Ashbury to Euston can test the patience of the most seasoned commuter. The journey is supposed to take fifty-four minutes, but it rarely does: this section of the track is ancient, decrepit, beset with signalling problems and never-ending engineering works.

The train crawls along; it judders past warehouses and water towers, bridges and sheds, past modest Victorian houses, their backs turned squarely to the track.

My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as others do not; even their owners probably don’t see them from this perspective. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives, just for a moment. There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.

Someone’s phone is ringing, an incongruously joyful and upbeat song. They’re slow to answer, it jingles on and on around me. I can feel my fellow commuters shift in their seats, rustle their newspapers, tap at their computers. The train lurches and sways around the bend, slowing as it approaches a red signal. I try not to look up, I try to read the free newspaper I was handed on my way into the station, but the words blur in front of my eyes, nothing holds my interest. In my head I can still see that little pile of clothes lying at the edge of the track, abandoned.

The premixed gin and tonic fizzes up over the lip of the can as I bring it to my mouth and sip. Tangy and cold, the taste of my first-ever holiday with Tom, a fishing village on the Basque coast in 2005. In the mornings we’d swim the half mile to the little island in the bay, make love on secret hidden beaches; in the afternoons we’d sit at a bar drinking strong, bitter gin and tonics, watching swarms of beach footballers playing chaotic twenty-five-a-side games on the low-tide sands.

I take another sip, and another; the can’s already half empty, but it’s OK, I have three more in the plastic bag at my feet. It’s Friday, so I don’t have to feel guilty about drinking on the train. TGIF. The fun starts here.

It’s going to be a lovely weekend, that’s what they’re telling us. Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies. In the old days we might have driven to Corly Wood with a picnic and the papers, spent all afternoon lying on a blanket in dappled sunlight, drinking wine. We might have barbecued out back with friends, or gone to the Rose and sat in the beer garden, faces flushing with sun and alcohol as the afternoon went on, weaving home, arm in arm, falling asleep on the sofa.

Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.

The weekend stretches out ahead of me, forty-eight empty hours to fill. I lift the can to my mouth again, but there’s not a drop left.

The Hurricane Sisters
Eighty-year old Maisie Pringle has found love with Skipper, a younger man devoted to her, who owns a Llama farm of all things.  When Dorothea Benton Frank’s–The Hurricane Sisters—opens, she is waiting for her family to arrive at the fancy restaurant for her birthday lunch.

Her daughter Liz is supposedly happily married to financial wiz Clayton, but there is kind of loneliness in her life that is left even more acute with the departure of her kids.  The death of her beautiful, artistic sister Juliet in the distant past, hangs over their lives, since Maisie keeps bringing up her dead daughter in every conversation.

Liz’s daughter Ashley lives with her friend Mary Beth in the old family beach house, works at a low-end job and hopes to be an artist. Liz thinks her mother is spoiling Ashley with money and undeserved praise.

At the lunch, Liz’s son Ivy turns up with his Asian partner James, and it is clear to the family that the much older man is not merely a business partner, and they have to suddenly deal with this new facet to Ivy’s life.

Liz fills her empty days working with a shelter for battered women, and treats it as a mission to be undertaken seriously.  As she tries to raise funds for victims of domestic violence and their children, it is revealed that the South Carolina, where they live, tops the list in the state wise domestic abuse statistics.

As Liz discovers her husband’s infidelity, Ashley gets into a doomed relationship with Senator Porter Galloway, who seems to be a Prince Charming, but is arrogant, narrow-minded, and when provoked, violent.

Even though the family is dysfunctional and Liz finds herself almost isolated by her mother’s indifference and daughter’s independence, there is love buried beneath the coldness, and when crisis—and a hurricane—strikes, the family comes together to battle it out.

While it’s all too pat and neatly tried up, Frank narrates the story with straightforward simplicity, and makes it inspiring and heartwarming.  Worth a read.
The Hurricane Sisters
By Dorothea Benton Frank
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 320

Excerpt from The Hurricane Sisters
My husband, Clayton, and I were at the police station getting my mother, Maisie, out of jail for brushing up against the wrong side of the law. Her actual charges were still unclear. She claims it is not against any law in the state of South Carolina to take a llama for a walk on the open road. He was, after all, on a leash. The local police beg to differ, saying this is a case of animal cruelty, endangerment, and reckless behavior. Legal or not, it wasn’t normal.
I was glad they brought her in to the police station until I could get there because her behavior surely demonstrates a lack of sound judgment. Or not. Maisie was crazy like a fox and we all knew it. So I sat and waited while Clayton made things right between the Town of Mount Pleasant and Maisie by writing a check.

Anyway, the jailhouse may seem like an insensitive place to begin my story, but I think it’s best if you know the truth about what my family is like. Too many times we all get introduced to people who seem perfectly nice and later on you find out they’re cracked. So, like people used to say, I’m cutting to the chase and telling it like it is. Every single person in this family is highly opinionated. You wouldn’t believe how smart and clever they think they are. And even after the hurricane and all we went through with my daughter, Ashley, Maisie still can’t be trusted. And maybe it’s a good thing.

Clayton came back and sat down beside me on the long wooden bench.

“It’s going to be about fifteen minutes until they let her out. You want coffee?”

“No, thanks. The caffeine ... I’m already a mess. Why is it taking so long?”

“Well, apparently they’re having trouble with the llama. It’s skittish and spitting. I guess I’ll have to go out to the farm and get Joyce, the caretaker, to calm our woolly beast down and take her back. They’ve got her in the dog catcher’s pen for the moment.”

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