Monthly Archives: June 2016

‘The Guest Room’ by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest RoomstarstarstarThis riveting story reminded me that I should read more from this author. Midwives and The Double Bind are others of his that I have thoroughly enjoyed. In The Guest Room a bachelor party goes horribly wrong; two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two young girls are on the run, and a marriage is coming apart at the seams.

This fast paced story telling has a purpose–to keep us reading despite the violence and discomfort of the topic and make us aware of a very important issue. Slavery is not a thing of the past. Vulnerable young girls are regularly kidnapped into the sex trade and unless we understand the market that drives it and hear from the victims who undergo this human rights violation, the topic remains under wraps. Bringing traffickers to justice is a hard thing, but the more people are made aware through reading novels like this, the better chance we have as a society to do something about it. Even though parts of this book are hard to read, I was hooked from the very first page and it did not let me go till the very end.

The book shows how exploitation systems work, how victims can feel ashamed and inadequate even though they have done no wrong, and highlights the kinds of people (both men and women) who drive the sex trade industry. There are many victims in this cautionary tale and the evil done by a few is far reaching.

‘These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach

These Foolish ThingsstarstarstarBlockbuster hits The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 1 and 2 were adapted from a book of a different title These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. The movies have a rom-com feel despite the serious examination of the problem of aging. The adage is true, “old age is not for sissies” and both the movies and the book take a poignant and humorous look at the often undignified treatment of the elderly in our society. But the book includes a further dimension, that of the curious relationship between Britain and India as well as the moral implications of outsourcing senior care to a place where services and carers are cheaper!

TBEMHThe days of the Raj may be long gone, but echoes of both cultures are evident in each. In UK, next to the Sunday roast, curry is a popular national dish and in India, Victorian houses rise up from the squalor. Gymkhana Clubs still abound. The colonial mindset sadly still persists and using a foreign country for cheap labour and call centres, is not likely to change that.

Imagine therefore, India as a solution for outsourcing elderly care from Britain! Why not use clever marketing to make it sound exotic with old world charm and modern conveniences? When the seniors arrive, it will be too late to complain about the dodgy plumbing, decrepit buildings, and poverty on the doorstep…they will already have entered the ‘waiting room’, and will spend their time trying not to look at the departure board, as they enjoy their evening gin and tonics! Seniors residing in hotels is not a new idea in Britain. I am reminded of Elizabeth Taylor’s classic Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. In fact, with the cost of seniors homes, it is true that some enterprising and able bodied seniors find that back-to-back cruises keep them better fed, entertained, and housed, and for much less.

The Best Exotic Marigold HotelThe book more clearly backstories the characters and their families none of whom correspond exactly to those in the movies, although there are similarities. The book also portrays the younger generation using this entrepreneurial idea as a solution which tidily takes care of even needing to visit regularly and if there is a visit, making it much more interesting! The endearing part of the story is that the old folks do adapt and form a marvellous community and show more pith and adaptation than their children ever expected them to, or would even be able to muster themselves. Unusually, I didn’t mind reading the book after seeing the movies, in fact it enriched the story for me.

‘The Improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild

The Improbability of Lovestarstarstar“How does one value a work of art? It’s certainly nothing to do with the weight of its paint and canvas or even the frame around it. No, the value of a work of art is set by desire: who wants to own it and how badly.”

The story begins in a prestigious auction house in London with several billionaires vying for the same small painting. A painting that once belonged to struggling chef,  Annie McDee. She picked up this long lost work by French painter Antoine Watteau, on a whim in a junk shop and was totally unaware of its value (as was the seller). Her purchase draws her unwittingly into the underbelly of the cut-throat global art world at her own peril. It’s a great novel and would make a fantastic movie!

Every so often, the painting gets to speak. I love the 300 year old French voice of the original work which is called “The Improbability of Love.” Those chapters are interspersed throughout the narrative and they are delightful. The novel is full of global art details which is enriching for the history buff. The author knows her stuff–she is chair of the National Gallery and trustee of several others. It is evident that she is familiar with the ins and outs of the art world and I did find it interesting to learn about the industry through the story, everything from restoration to preservation, to the big business side of it. Just as paintings are often covered by dust, grime, old paint and varnish and need to be painstakingly uncovered and restored to their original beauty, so with the novel. As the author peels away the layers of the tale, it gains richness and clarity and becomes a revelation.

Food can be presented as a work of art as well. As a passionate and unique chef, the meals that Annie makes for a flamboyant cast of characters, are a treat in themselves. To call her a caterer is just not adequate. She creates a culinary experience. There are a lot of characters to keep track of in this book, which felt a little overwhelming at times, especially at the beginning, but if you stick with it, the author brings them all masterfully together. I did wonder whether the novel should have been condensed a bit, it did seemed a bit baggy at times.

This week the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction winner was announced and it was not this one or the other three on the shortlist that I read and loved (The Green Road, A Little Life, and The Portable Veblen). Why is it that often the quirky one that I have no desire to read, is the one that gets picked as the winner? (Sigh) What I do know is that every year the Bailey’s Longlist is well worth using as a TBR list!! It is consistently an amazing collection of titles.