August reading went a little better than July but still a bit of a mixed bag. I’m hoping to find some game-changer books in September to perk up my reading.
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
This a behemoth of a book. An Indian saga, gangster story and detective story all rolled up into one.
I loved the first half of the book as I found the welcome into the two main protagonists lives complete and immersive. We follow Ganesh, a gang overlord, and Sartaj one of few Sikh policeman as their lives intertwine in stories from the past and into the future. But, about half way in I felt that it lost its way. As well as telling the main story, Chandra has interludes telling backstories from other characters you meet along the way. These were interesting at first, but coming up to 800 pages I was keen for the main story to hurry up and resolve. Ganesh’s story also took on a very religious tone and I found this slowed down the pace as we were forced to hear all his Guru’s theories along with him. I also felt that the characters became increasingly sexist which may be a realistic reflection on how some women are still viewed by some men but it was hard to read at times.
Overall I enjoyed this book, I love reading books set in India and the first parts in-particular did a wonderful job of conjuring up life in Mumbai in such a vivid way.
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell by Jane Dunn
The sub-heading of this book was ‘A very close conspiracy’ which is how the lives of these two famous sisters are presented. This was the first non-fiction I had read about these women, well known artists in their own fields and members of the well remembered Bloomsbury set of intellectuals. My main issue with this book was that, rather than being written in a timeline of their lives, it focused on different topics and how their lives fit into this. This meant that the book was extremely repetitive and made the same points over and over again. This also added to the impression that Dunn had put these two women into boxes, as she claims the world has done, and isn’t willing to look how else their lives and experiences might be read. I found it an interesting read, but the structure and stereotypes let it down so I’m not sure I would recommend this biography.
Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance by Fabio Stassi
This was a very strange little book which I read in a weekend. It is a fictionalised story of Charlie Chaplin meeting Death once a year towards the end of his life and making him laugh to earn an extra year to live. Within this we go back in time to learn how Chaplin became Chaplin. It’s one of those books that is very fact paced, but in way where you’re not really sure you quite know what’s happening. It’s all quite baffling really! I guess you could call it magical realism as we do have the character of Death come to life, woven into short vignettes of Chaplin’s different jobs in his early years. It was a fun read, but not one that stayed with me of effected me.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
You know, I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes when I pick up a classic, as much as I love them, I do get a sense of dread that I won’t be able to follow it or won’t get into it. This was one of the easiest to read classics I’ve ever read. I knew the bones of the story so that might have helped, but even then I found it to be funny, easy to follow and I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. As it is a book whose characters have somewhat crossed over into popular culture (most people have a vague idea about Miss Havisham at least) it was fun to read the full story and know more about these people. I have to admit I didn’t sympathise much with Pip or Estella, but I loved Joe Wemmick who made up for it! It made me want to read more Dickens and I also feel it would be a good place to start for someone new to classics.
What makes women happy by Fay Weldon
This was one of the biggest disappointments in my reading life. I have long looked up to Weldon as a writer, a feminist and a woman so I was looking forward to picking this book up. I hated everything about it. The premise is essentially how to be happy (which apparently women are only capable of for 10 minutes at a time) and for that we just need chocolate, shopping and men. Oh and it’s totally fine to fake orgasms to make the men feel better. I feel so angry about this book that even after weeks of reading it I can’t bring myself to properly write about it. I need to gather my thoughts and write about it properly. But I just couldn’t fathom on Weldon, who has written brilliantly witty novels about women such as Praxis which I loved, could write this book which throws every stereotype at women and men, forgets that it’s possible to be gay and rather than being about what makes women happy, should be aptly titled ‘how we ought to make men more happy’. For a while I wondered if the whole thing was meant to be a joke and I was missing the point – but I actually checked on Goodreads to see if I was missing something but it seemed that a lot of reactions were similar to mine.
Oh dear. Not a very positive end note there. I am also nearly finishe on a Robin Hobb fantasy novel which I’m loving so onto bigger and better things!