Suffolk Posts

Twinkle Khanna and Brigid Keenan

MRS FUNNYBONES_webI have had immense good fortune of reading Twinkle Khanna’s Mrs Funnybones and Brigid Keenan’s Packing Up back-to-back.

Mrs Funnybones is Twinkle Khanna’s debut as an author. It is based upon her immensely popular and delightfully irreverent column of the same name published in Mumbai newspaper, DNA. It is a sharp, witty and tongue-in-cheek commentary on the many roles a modern woman fulfils — career woman, housekeeper, mother, wife, counsellor, daughter, daughter-in-law, accountant, Man Friday etc. Many would be sceptical that a famous star like Twinkle Khanna is able to write on her own without the assistance of a ghost writer, but there is an authenticity about the book which rings true. I would not term it as “chick lit” but many would view it so. It is hard to put one’s finger on it but reading it from cover-to-cover followed by listening to her at the book launch convince one about Mrs Funnybones being wholly original. Twinkle Khanna had been an actress but is a more accomplished interior designer, voracious reader especially of scifi literature and if her friends at the book launch are to be believed, always known for her wit.

A sample of her writing on her observations on Karva Chauth, an annual ritual in the Hindu calendar when north Indian women fast for the day, ostensibly for seeking better health of their husbands. The day ends with the wife looking at the reflection of the moon through a sieve to secure the lunar deity’s blessings, then she turns to her husband and views his face indirectly in the same manner. This is what Twinkle Khanna has to say:

We Indians are a strange race; we send MOM to Mars, but listen to mom-in-law and look for the moon. One of the better qualities we possess is that most of us will follow traditions and rituals as long as they do not demean or harm us, or cause us to do the same to another, while making our elders happy. We simply do it rather than prove a point as to how liberated and independent we truly are. Perhaps, this is how we harmoniously hold our large families together as we celebrate different aspects of our lives.  ( p.101)

Here is a link to the star-studded book launch organised earlier this week in Mumbai. The conversation with Karan Johar, Aamir Khan, etc are worth watching. Apparently her husband, the mega-Bollywood star, Akshay Kumar reads every single word she spins out and is her first editor. In recent times as mentioned in the YouTube link, he has gently advised her to not use the word “Pakistan” on a few occasions.

 

Brigid Keenan’s Packing Up she suggests falls into the category of “decreplit” or books written by older Packing Upwomen. Packing Up is a hilarious account of her travels as a diplomat’s wife, retirement and grandmotherhood. When she is not mending her tarantula ( seriously! a souvenir collected in Trinidad, after her husband squashed it), Brigid Keenan’s keen eye observes life around her whether it is in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Suffolk, London, Brussels, Jaipur or Sri Lanka. She is one of the co-founders of the Palestinian Festival of Literature. Whatever she does, it is with passion.

With both these women writers it is the frank honesty with which they write, the ability to laugh at themselves and gaily comment on the world around them. The facetiousness with which they seemingly write, garbs the brutal and sharp understanding of reality they have. Mrs Funnybones and Packing Up are excellent examples of using one’s wit with panache.

These books are a must buy.

Twinkle Khanna Mrs Funnybones Penguin Books, Gurgaon, India, 2015. Pb. pp. 240 Rs. 299

Brigid Keenan Packing Up: Further Adventures of a Trailing Spouse Bloomsbury, London, 2014. Pb. pp. 320 Rs 399

21 August 2015

Esther Freud “Mr Mac and Me”

Esther Freud “Mr Mac and Me”

Mr Mac and MeMac is working on a bright purple grape hyacinth. He has it laid out on a sheet of paper and is examining its tiny solid head. ‘No.’ he mutters to himself, ‘no.’

I’ve let myself in, but now I’m not sure whether to disturb him.

‘Hello.’ He looks up and catches me at the door, and he tells me that never has he spent a morning with a flower and known less about it when he was through. ‘Look,’ he lays it out. And together we peer at the dense purple blocks of it, solid as wax above its stalk of blazing green. 

(p.195, Mr Mac and Me)

Thomas Magg, the crippled twelve-year-old son of the Blue Anchor owner, lives on the coast of Suffolk. A little before First World War breaks, Tom befriends a new visitor to their village, who it turns out is the renowned architect, Charles Rennie Macintosh. The two develop a  cordial relationship, primarily focused upon their common love for painting. Thomas or Tom as he is often referred enjoys doodling ships and boats in the margins of his notebooks, much to the exasperation of his school teacher. Whereas Mr Macintosh or Mr Mac as Tom calls him exquisitely paints water colours of the local wild flowers. ( In fact the cover of Esther Freud’s novel uses a detail from a beautiful 1915 water colour and pencil drawing Charles Macintosh made of Fritillaria.) Soon the two men “bond” over their love for painting and are able to share the silence of working together in peace. ( “There’s a thick, warm silence as we work. I’ve sense that silence, when I used to watch them, but now that I’m inside it, it’s as solid as a coat.” ) At times, Mrs Margaret Macdonald, an accomplished painter herself specialising in the technique of Gosse, joins her husband in Suffolk. ( Her most famous Gesso work was a set of panels, larger than doors, commissioned by a private collector and called The Seven Princesses. ) They are from Glasgow where along with Margaret’s sister, Frances and her husband, Herbert MacNair, they were known as The Four. Mr Mac was also responsible for designing the new Glasgow School of Art, commissioned in 1897 by the School Director, Francis Newberry. (His descriptions of the project are a pleasure to read in the crm-pansynovel.) With the Great War breaking life in Suffolk is also affected. Soldiers come and stay, refugees arrive, and locals living near to the sea move to safer places  inland and with the turmoil suspicion falls upon Mr Mac. The locals, goaded by Mr Gory, a newcomer himself, rapidly come to believe that Mr Mac is a spy since he moves around with his binoculars or spyglass observing the coastline. Before the war is over, Mr Mac is arrested and Thomas leaves Suffolk to travel the world.

Mr Mac and Me is a stunningly beautiful novel. All fiction is ultimately a labour of love, butMargaret Macintosh, Seven Princesses this is infused with love and beauty on every page. Every description is magnificent such as of the child observing Mr Mac paint — “I smile because he’s painted the river as if it is his own”. The descriptions of the wild flowers, even of the sweet william blooms on Tom’s mother’s table in the pub add a dash of colour, it is as if you can almost get the gentle and sweet fragrance of the wild flowers. While reading I kept wondering if some of these observations about watching a painter at work stemmed from Esther Freud’s own experience of seeing her father Lucien Freud at work. An answer was to be had in an interview she gave to the Guardian. She says “It’s funny, I didn’t even think about that until my publisher pointed out that the book describes how an artist works through the eyes of a child. And that was exactly my experience with my father; I slowly came to understand the artistic process through watching him paint. I’d have these little realisations like: oh, it’s going to take years! Or, as it says about Mackintosh in the book, that he was showing the insides of something – he hadn’t just abandoned it halfway through. I enjoyed trying to follow his thought process.”  ( 31 august 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/31/esther-freud-author-interview-mr-mac-and-me  )

Sadly the buildings of Glasgow School of Art that Charles Rennie Macintosh designed were severely damaged in a fire on 23 May 2014. In fact, Esther Freud “heard the news on the last day of checking the proofs. The timing did feel extraordinary. I felt so connected to him and so aware that he had had enough bad luck already.”

Mr Mac and Me is a pleasure to read. It has the knack of drawing  you in to the early twentieth century world of Suffolk without seeming like historical fiction, yet it leaves a warm glow of discovering a new world, creating a new space in one’s mind and introducing the reader to a significant designer of the post-Impressionist and Art Nouveau movement in Great Britain.  There is a lovely article published on 16 August 2014 in the Guardian describing how Esther Freud came to write this novel: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/16/esther-freud-houses-ghosts-inspired-new-book .

Please buy it! You won’t be sorry. This is a book for keeps.

Esther Freud Mr Mac and Me Bloomsbury India, 2014. Pb. pp. 300 Rs. 499