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Glimpses Of The Future

Monday, December 08, 2014
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 Nooksuggests 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]

When readers start on David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, they get into the working class Irish world of Holly Sykes, an angry young woman who is cruelly dumped by her boyfriend. She has already fought with her mother and left home, so can’t go back.

From such an ordinary opening, the book goes into a maze of multiple narratives, romance, fantasy, sci-fi and doomsday scenarios. By the end Holly Sykes is seen as an elderly grandmother in a remote village in Ireland, looking after two kids. It is a dark future in 2043, when today’s excesses have rendered the world short of electricity, water, food, and helplessly dominated by the Chinese.

In between, other characters enter and exit, secret cults have dangerous to-the-death battles, and somehow Holly Sykes is involved, either directly or peripherally.

There are a thousand twists and turns, and unless one is peeking at pages to come, there is no way of predicting what will happen next.

David Mitchell spins a seductive web over the novel’s 600 odd pages, and never lets the pace or inventiveness flag. He blends his real and fantasy narratives seamlessly to create a book which is sprawling in his reach, and always a few steps ahead of the reader’s anticipation. But he never takes the reader’s attention of patience for granted. He is quoted as having said in an interview, “One of the questions I always try to keep in the front of my mind is to ask why would anyone want to read this, and to try to find a positive answer for that. People’s time, if you bought it off them, is expensive. Someone’s going to give you eight or ten hours of their life. I want to give them something back, and I want it to be an enjoyable experience.”

Like his earlier book Cloud Atlas, this one too has six interconnected tracks that move from 1984 to 2043.  Linked to Holly Sykes are Hugo Lamb, a greedy, nasty Cambridge undergraduate; Crispin Hershey, a successful English writer who is suffering from writer’s block, Ed Brubeck a war correspondent with whom Holly has a child.

When she was younger, Holly heard voices and had visions; as an adult she still goes into occasional trances that frighten people around her. She doesn’t know how, but she is linked to two warring groups of immortals— the Horologists and the Anchorites.

When she had run away from home, she had encountered a strange old woman, Esther Little, who made the strange declaration that she may need “asylum” if “the First Mission fails.”  When she was seven, Holly was treated by Dr Marinus, a Chinese child psychiatrist to cure her of her mental “Radio People.”  These characters return in various incarnations; there are others who help Holly never to be heard of again— like her co-worker at a strawberry farm; or the horrid critic against whom Crispin Hershey launches a vicious revenge for writing a career-destroying review of his book.
Mitchell has as much fun with his stories and his characters as the reader he so clearly wants to engage and entertain. Some characters, like Marinus not just take different forms in this book, he appears from Mitchell’s earlier novels.

The portion in the middle, where the Horologists and Anchorites battle it out is a bit juvenile and video game-ish, with dialogue using sci-fi gobbledygook, but get past it and the book finds its steady, grown-up feet again and ends with a flourish.
The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell
Published by Random House
Pages: 640

Extract from The Bone Clocks:
I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there’s the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I’m already thinking of Vinny’s chocolatey eyes, shampoo down Vinny’s back, beads of sweat on Vinny’s shoulders, and Vinny’s sly laugh, and by now my heart’s going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny’s place in Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom. Last night, the words just said themselves, ‘Christ, I really love you, Vin,’ and Vinny puffed out a cloud of smoke and did this Prince Charles voice, ‘One must say, one’s frightfully partial to spending time with you too, Holly Sykes,’ and I nearly weed myself laughing, though I was a bit narked he didn’t say, ‘I love you too,’ back. If I’m honest. Still, boyfriends act goofy to hide stuff, any magazine’ll tell you. Wish I could phone him right now. Wish they’d invent phones you can speak to anyone anywhere anytime on. He’ll be riding his Norton to work in Rochester right now, in his leather jacket with LED ZEP spelt out in silver studs. Come September, when I turn sixteen, he’ll take me out on his Norton.

Someone slams a cupboard door, below.

Mam. No one else’d dare slam a door like that.

Suppose she’s found out? says a twisted voice.

No. We’ve been too careful, me and Vinny.

She’s menopausal, is Mam. That’ll be it.

Down in the kitchen, the atmosphere’s like Antarctica. ‘Morning,’ I say, but only Jacko looks up from the window-seat where he’s drawing. Talking Heads’ Fear of Music is on my record player, so I lower the stylus. Vinny bought me this LP, the second Saturday we met at Magic Bus Records. It’s an amazing record. I like ‘Heaven’ and ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ but there’s not a weak track on it. Vinny’s been to New York and actually saw Talking Heads, live. His mate Dan was on security and got Vinny backstage after the gig, and he hung out with David Byrne and the band. If he goes back next year, he’s taking me. I get dressed, finding each love bite and wishing I could go to Vinny’s tonight, but he’s meeting a bunch of mates in Dover. Men hate it when women act jealous, so I pretend not to be. My best friend Stella’s gone to London to hunt for second-hand clothes at Camden Market. Mam says I’m still too young to go to London without an adult so Stella took Ali Jessop instead. My biggest thrill today’ll be hoovering the bar to earn my three pounds pocket money. Whoopy-doo. Then I’ve got next week’s exams to revise for. But for two pins I’d hand in blank papers and tell school where to shove Pythagoras triangles and Lord of the Flies and their life cycles of worms. I might, too.

Yeah. I might just do that.

Down in the kitchen, the atmosphere’s like Antarctica. ‘Morning,’ I say, but only Jacko looks up from the window-seat where he’s drawing. Sharon’s through in the lounge part, watching a cartoon. Dad’s downstairs in the hallway, talking with the delivery guy – the truck from the brewery’s grumbling away in front of the pub. Mam’s chopping cooking apples into cubes, giving me the silent treatment. I’m supposed to say, ‘What’s wrong, Mam, what have I done?’ but sod that for a game of soldiers. Obviously she noticed I was back late last night, but I’ll let her raise the topic. I pour some milk over my Weetabix and take it to the table. Mam clangs the lid onto the pan and comes over. ‘Right. What have you got to say for yourself?’

Orphan Train picks its idea from the real instances of orphans loaded on to trains in the period between 1854 and 1929, by well-meaning social workers and handed over to families who would accept them. Some were treated kindly by their adoptive parents, others like unpaid labour.

 Christina Baker Kline’s book that has been on the bestselling lists for months, follows young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly. She has led an adventurous life amidst a succession of strangers, some generous many cruel. Mementoes of her colourful life, and diaries are stored in trunks put away in her attic. They are opened by a student Molly Ayer, an orphan herself, living with uncaring foster parents. Clearing and cataloguing the contents of Vivian’s attic is her community-service project, meant to keep her out of a juvenile reform home. An unlikely friendship develops between the girl and the old woman, who have a lot in common.
Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline
Published by Random House
Pages: 304

The fourteenth book in Daniel Silva’s series about Gabriel Allon, a master art restorer and reluctant spy-assassin for the Israli secret service.  Silva’s books with Allon as hero are well-researched, giving as much information abou art as about Middle East politics. Keeping Israel safe from terrosists is Allon’s greatest mission, even as he keeps trying to quit and settle down to a peaceful life as an artist with his wife Chiara. In this book, he sets out to search for a stolen masterpiece by Caravaggio. To do this, he has to pull off an art heist himself to smoke out the bunch of villains from their global dens. After the superb The English Girl, the latest Allon novel stands alongside the best in thriller fiction.
The Heist
by Daniel Silva
Published by Harper
Pages: 475

Cyrus Mistry’s last book, Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, a depressing account of an outcast Parsi, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Like his brother Rohinton Mistry, he too turns his attention on the Parsi community. The Radiance of Ashes was his first novel, published in 2005 and republished this year by Aleph. The book’s protagonist is Jahangir ‘Jingo’ Moos, a college drop-out, aspiring writer and loser, who makes a meagre living as a door-to-door market researcher. His romance with a Christian girl, that gave his parents a lot of grief, ended, and Jingo drifts along without any hope or ambition till an altercation with a cop forces him to go into hiding in a slum. Mistry paints as vivid a picture of carefree upper class Bombay as the ugly ‘other’ Mumbai that nobody cares about. Then then the destruction of the Babri Masjid takes place, sending the city into a spiral of violence and hate. This one is more readable than his Corpse Bearer book and records a horrible phase that Mumbai suffered and would rather forget.
The Radiance of Ashes
by Cyrus Mistry
Published by Aleph
Pages: 348

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