relationships Posts

“The Line Tender” by Kate Allen

This is an extraordinary novel. Beautifully told by debut writer Kate Allen. It is about a young girl Lucy whose mother was a marine scientist specialising in the study of the Great White Shark. They live in Cape Cod where sightings of the sharks have been spotted and Helen had anticipated their arrival in a few years time as the local seal population grew. Unfortunately Lucy’s mum, Helen, passed away unexpectedly when Lucy was a seven years old. Her father, a rescue diver for the police, brought up Lucy with the support of his kind and warmhearted neighbours. Lucy is particularly close to her neighbour Maggie’s son, Fred. The youngsters did everything together including spending every moment of their waking hour in each other’s company. They also worked on a school projects together like the field guide on sharks that involved Lucy drawing and Fred providing the scientific explanations. Sadly, tragedy strikes. It devastates Lucy for whom it is a double blow. “The Line Tender” is an extraordinary glimpse into the world of adolescents as well as how adults around them help form a community and provide support whether in times of sadness, learning or navigating their way through the beauty this world can provide. It is not an us vs them kind of yalit but calm look at how everyone is managing their griefs too and they can reach out to each other for support. It is a way of looking outwards and the manner in which it helps heal Lucy. Read it.

29 October 2019

Tishani Doshi’s “Small Days and Nights”

I had been prepared for ugliness because that’s what grows in India, sprouts and flourishes like the hair on a dead person. But the space in which you from adult to child, that leaf-thin whiplash, that I had not expected.

I do not need the freedom I imagine I need.

Dancer, poet, writer and literary critic Tishani Doshi’s second novel Small Days and Nights is about thirty-something Grace who is half-Indian, half-Italian. Upon her mother’s death she discovers she has a younger sister Lucia. Lucia has Down’s syndrome which their Italian father insists on referring to as “Mongoloid”. Grace decides to take charge of her life and one of her first decisions is to move her sister home. This despite protests from Lucia’s Teacher at the home. The sisters move to a home their mother had bought many years earlier for a song. Now it is considered to be prime property. Ten acres of land with a detached house by the sea. Grace relies upon a young girl from the village called Mallika to help her manage the house and Lucia and the many stray dogs they seem to have become responsible for. This is a domestic scene that is quietly idyllic. It is a feminist utopia with no men in the household. Although men from the village come to Grace regularly seeking funds and offering unsolicited advice. The sisters also get unwelcome visitors like hostile property brokers.

Small Days and Nights focuses on a tiny slice of domesticity, a world that is usually invisible to most, at least in literature but is all around us. There is something reassuring to know that women’s fiction can make matters of “little” importance such as “caregiving”. Even the frustration that Grace feels for Lucia one day and vents it upon her younger sister by becoming physically violent is understandable to those who are caregivers 24×7. Caregiving is a relentless and an unforgiving responsibility but to those on the outside incidents like this became an occasion to pass judgement. Whereas it is far more complicated than it looks. The outcome is that Lucia is taken away from Grace’s care and back to the home.

While it has the makings of an internationally acclaimed novel there are moments in Small Days and Nights which are bewildering such as the act of Grace taking Lucia out of the home where she was well provided for and Lucia was obviously at ease. Why was it necessary to remove Lucia from her comfortable environs? Or an equally inexplicable act of Grace taking off for long weekends to the nearest city, Chennai, to be with her friends. Wanting time for oneself is a self-preservation act which is necessary for every caregiver but taking time out like this can only be managed if there are reliable people to step in while the primary caregiver is away. Caregiving is a responsibility and not a noble act. It is a constant in one’s life and impossible to take a break from even with support staff to help with the minute-to-minute supervision. And as Grace discovers to her dismay that once she was away Lucia was not being provided for instead she had been abandoned by the maid. Another cause for friction between Teacher, the villagers and Grace.

Small Days and Nights has a way of consuming one with a seemingly insignificant women’s domestic drama but lingers for much longer for the larger issues it raises such as what is the definition of a household, of a family, of relationships, of love etc? The responsibility of caregiving is a thankless task where every caregiver needs their safety valve moment without also having to tackle the judgement passed upon them by outsiders. It forces conversations upon readers about women and their world that would otherwise not under ordinary circumstances be considered as worthwhile.

Small Days and Nights is an unforgettable novel.

5 June 2019

Hanya Yanagihara, “A Little Life”

Hanya Yanagihara“Contracts are not just sheets of paper promising you a job, or a house, or an inheritance: in its purest, truest, broadest sense, contracts govern every realm of law. When we choose to live in a society, we choose to live under a contract, and to abide by the rules that a contract dictates for us… .” ( p.116) 

Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel A Little Life is a strong contender for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015. It will be announced on Tuesday, 13 October 2015. Meanwhile it has created a more than a little storm in literary circles around the globe. Inevitably comments are being posted about how powerful it is, the incredible writing and not a single reader has been left unscathed, many dissolving into tears while reading it. Needless to say it rocks you emotionally. It has to be one of the most exhausting novels from contemporary literature and this is not a testimony to the time spent reading the 700-odd pages. It is the story itself. Four young men, friends from their days as undergraduates at a prestigious New England University, who try finding their feet as professionals as adults. The novel spans their lifetime but instead of it being a straightforward old-fashioned bildungsroman, it delves into their past particularly their formative years as children focusing primarily on Jude St.Francis. There is forward movement, it is hard-hitting, at times a painfully descriptive yet grippingly told narrative. It is a book that demands to be read at one-sitting ( read minimum three days) without getting distracted by anything else, otherwise it will be impossible to finish reading.

A Little Life is already being termed as a “queer classic” within a few months of its publication. It is a devastating look at adult male relationships primarily through the prism of love that the four men have for each other. The story is mapped from their days as students to old age. A time when most people have mellowed or come to terms with the life they live except for Jude who continues to be consistent in his personality –notably his physical self-flagellation whereas Hanya Yanagihara sees Jude as being “consistent in his hopefulness”. ( Hear the Guardian podcast.) If it were not for the immense love, tenderness and understanding his inner circle has for him, Jude would have long been dead. Somehow this inexplicably violent aspect of his personality overshadows his brilliance as a lawyer. Along the way other forms of love are also explored — the love between parents ( biological, foster and adopted) parents for their wards, the expression of love ( at times horrifically warped — between lovers, rapists, perpetrators of child sexual abuse) and how the bonds of love are forged over time? The factor of trust is also explored in many ways. Trust is an essential part of the foundation upon which love between two individuals is built, so should it be ever taken for granted or does it require constant nurturing?

Hanya Yanagihara is a journalist who has been with Conde Nast and New York Times. She spent a few years writing this novel.  Here is an interview between her editor, Gerry Howard and her, published in Slate. ( 5 March 2015. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2015/03/hanya_yanagihara_author_of_a_little_life_and_her_editor_gerry_howard.html ) There have been a deluge of articles, reviews, interviews, podcasts with the author, coming to terms with A Little Life. It is no mean achievement when a writer is able to create a work of art that has a phenomenal reaction. Over and over again readers are responding to the manner in which it transformed them. The only consistent element evident in the media buzz about A Little Life  is the astonished reaction at encountering this work of literary art. The fact that it is a work of fiction, but so magnificently detailed to make it powerfully moving and yet, as Hanya has discovered, young men have approached her saying this is remarkably true to their lives. But she clarifies in the interview with Claire Armistead that she has never known a Jude or a person who could have inspired the character. It is a novel that has created a new benchmark of literary fiction. Yet I cannot help feeling it is an example of a new form of decadence in the craft of writing. It rips apart the known “limits” of literary fiction immersing the reader in a vortex of pain, suffering, love, and relationships making it a harrowing experience but strangely addictive too — akin to the fascination upon discovering a mind blowing new art form. Even the author confirms that “this book is extravagant, its highly artificial, its large in its emotions…I want to push way up against the line almost of melodrama …and so I really wanted to push every single emotion, every single sensation as far as I could and I don’t think that is a very fashionable way to write fiction any more. Not that I was concerned about that.” ( Excerpt quoted from the Guardian podcast with Claire Armistead.)

Read it.

Some links to read:

  1. The Guardian Books Podcast with Claire Armistead, 28 August 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2015/aug/28/novels-books-podcast-hanya-yanagihara-andrew-miller
  2. James Kidd talks to Hanya Yanagihara, 23 August 2015. http://thiswritinglife.co.uk/e/episode-27-hanya-yanagihara-a-little-life-part-1/
  3. Lucy Scholes  in Bookanista “Hanya Yanagihara among friends” http://bookanista.com/hanya-yanagihara/
  4. Jon Michaud ” The subversive brilliance of A Little Life” 28 April 2015 http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-subversive-brilliance-of-a-little-life
  5. A interview and a review in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/26/hanya-yanagihara-i-wanted-everything-turned-up-a-little-too-high-interview-a-little-life and http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/18/a-little-life-hanya-yanagihara-review-man-booker-prize
  6. An interview in the Bookseller http://www.thebookseller.com/insight/hanya-yanagihara-interview

Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life Picador, London, UK, 2015. Pb. pp. 734. Rs. 699