To cut a long story short (Archer)

5/5 the best he has written

Have been reading a number of so-so books and didn’t feel the drive to write anything down. I guess it takes inexorable revulsion or unsuppressable awe for me to write anything.

I had initially thought I had read all of Archers short story collections, from his first “A quiver full of arrows” till his most recent “Thereby hangs a tail”. So it was a pleasant surprise to spot a collection I hadn’t yet read sitting on a shelf for half price at blossoms.

I blame my ADD for my love of short stories, No plethora of characters to keep track of, no family trees to keep in your head and most importantly no need to hold your breath while the author goes off on a digression which fills an entire book. ‘Harry Potter and the order of pheonix’ is a case in point.

A great short story keeps you ??guessing??. The details confuse you, the scene intrigues you, the characters make you suspicious and most importantly, in my opinion, the ending makes you wonder “what was I thinking?”. “To cut a long story short” has a number of stories that did this to me.

One thing that struck me about the collection, is its underlying theme of cynicism. Many of the stories portray the nastier (truer?) side of life. Relationships where water takes on the viscosity of molten lead when compared to blood, Marriages that end up in heaven (hell??) and criminals that not only get away but gain financial freedom. Definitely not bed time story material and will not build character in young adults. The timing of this book is also interesting. Published in 2000, the beginning of the financial meltdown, it seems to echo the sentiment of the age (or predict it?).

To cut a long story short, its worth a read.


The End of Eternity (Asimov)

After weeks of focussed attention on a computer screen and decoding obfuscated messages from gdb and other “tools” I needed a break. I wanted something small and fast. The first book I picked up, “Calcutta chromosome” by Amitav Ghosh, turned out to be a mistake. Amitav Ghosh writes high literature about common-place life, not suited, at all, for a person suffering from attention deficiency.

After about 10 pages, I gave up on that (mind you I will pick that up again when I can bring myself to focus). Then on the way to a disappointing movie on the importance of greed (“Wall Street II”) I came across a nice small Asimov book. Having read (and liked) the foundation series and a couple of short stories of his, I scanned through the first few pages. I couldn’t put it down. 2 days later, I finished it!

The book, in story format, is a study in time-travel and discusses the pros and cons of time travel. Going into much detail about a possible way in which time-travel can be “discovered” and its maintenance thereof, Asimov’s ideas are beautifully detailed and connected with a lot of logic and, more importantly, imagination. Science is never boring with professor Asimov, especially with his characteristic twist in the tail.

Andrew Harlan is a technician, his job is to “fix” reality in various centuries, for the “greater good” of mankind. By using Tensor calculus he is able to arrive at, and implement, the “Minimum Necessary Change” required in a current reality to bring about a preferred target reality. All goes well until Cupid’s arrows, travelling in time, prick him. How will reality change?

The book has quite an interesting background as well. But its full of spoilers, I would advise reading the book first and then reading the link.

Triple – Ken Follett

1/5 –  its just another Sydney Sheldon grade novel meant to be read and discarded on the train.

The intrigue began even before I opened the book. Snooping around an airport book shop at midnight, my friend recommended this book to me. Taking him on good faith, I bought it only to find out that in-fact it was a book he had heard about and wanted to read. As retaliation I refused to lend him the book. Maybe I should have let him take it and suffer.


Its a Sydney Sheldon grade spy thriller filled with cliches and raunchy scenes. Some raunchy scenes are just bizarre. Here are a few of the cliched dialogues

“Oh shit Nathaniel I think I love you”

“what are you? Captain America”

In a love letter “There are so many things I want to do to you. No not ‘to’ but ‘with’. Ok maybe both. I think I should change the subject because my hands are getting fidgety just thinking of it, I mean you”

Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri 1999)

3/5 may appeal to the overly self obsessed….

My first acquaintance with Jhumpa Lahiri was through the book “The Namesake”. I loved it. Having grown up a Desi in England, I could really relate to the book. The vivid scenes so impeccably described overpowered me with the consonant interference of my past. With each turning page, my heart beat closer in time with the whirlpool of emotions that weighed down the pages as tears weigh down a ladies handkerchief. Man was it depressing! Looking back, I think I loved the book for its freshness and the fact that it ended on a happy note.

With “Interpreter of Maladies” Jhumpa Lahiri proves without doubt that there is no one else who knows more about the maladies that affect the Desi who settles abroad. And that is my problem with the book. It is filled with so much pain, and each pain is described so well that you can actually feel it. Dysfunctional marriages, arranged marriage disasters meekly suffered, infidelity, cruelty, guilt in a series of short stories that do not all have a happy endings.

That said, a few stories are incredibly architected and leave you wondering, how someone can imagine something like that. There are others that make you feel all warm inside and some that you have to ask “what was the point of that?”.  My only complaint is that most of them just make you feel terrible.

Jhumpa Lahiri is an amazing writer and will always be one of my favourites, but I really think she has to find a happier release for her talent!

Kim (Rudyard Kipling)

Rating 5/5 superb.

I was reading a collection of short stories by Ruskin Bond by the name “Delhi is not far”, when I came across an adulatory piece, venerating Rudyard Kipling. I, ofcourse, had heard of Rudyard Kipling as the author of “The Jungle Book”, but had never read any of his works, being satisfied with Walt Disney’s interpretation of the same. The adulation heaped on Kipling by Bond, to the effect of dedicating a short story to him, peaked my interest in Kipling’s works. The same evening I hopped over to Crossword to begin my collection. I got hold of 2 books, “The Jungle Books” and “Kim”. This is a review of “Kim”.

Kim is the name of our Protagonist, a child of a British sahib, who is orphaned at birth and handed over to an Indian Maid Servant with instructions (in the form of a sheet of paper) to send the boy to a (British) government run boarding school. The maid servant makes the paper into a pendant to hang around the childs neck, thinking it to be a charm, like those the Babaji’s write and place in metal containers to ward away evil spirits. Thus Kim begins his life on the streets as a beggar. The second of our heroes is a Lama (Monk) from Nepal who is in search of a sacred river, which is said to have sprung from the ground where the Buddha had pierced it with an arrow. The Lama meets Kim on his search, and Kim becomes his Chela (student, learns from the teacher, while looking after the teachers needs, like begging for food etc). Kim is partially driven out of concern for the Lama who is too innocent for the hardships of an indian beggar and partially to learn the secret of the pendant that hangs around his neck. The Lama is in search of his river, but also feels it is his duty to train Kim on the true path.

Throughout the narrative Kipling shows the depth of his knowledge of the Indian people, their customs, their beliefs and superstitions. Every page is filled with colourful characters that breath life into the narrative and each character is coloured with Indian idiosyncrasies and beliefs. The British Raj is described as well in all its contradictory glory. On the one hand the Englishman towers above the natives controlling them by their superstitions, but on the other hand he cannot survive without their sincerity, kindness and faith.

Amid all the chaos and cacophony of the British Raj, the central story of a boys growth into a man and the fruition of an old mans faith, is treated with utmost tenderness. Ultimately this tenderness transforms into a deep love in the heart of the reader. A love for the holy man, so innocent but determined and a love for Kim, who is pulled in all directions by his environment, but is unwilling to abandon his holy man.

The Girl with the dragon Tatoo (The Millenium trilogy)

Rating: 4/5

This is a murder-mystery-thriller somewhat on the lines of “bones”. The storyline though not unique is handled very well and is very well grounded. The narrative is fast-paced and touches a number of topics on its journey to its ultimate end. Its quite an old book and its “fantastic” descriptions of the internet and its power, for example the holy-grail-like-handling of the word “Hacker”, seem a little corny in the present day, but it presents a nice picture of how the internet was perceived in those days.

What stands out in this novel is the number of interesting characters and their depth. From the journalist to the private investigator to the “suspects”, each character has been well fleshed out and presented.

I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the rest of the series.