Sunday, December 02, 2012

Margarent Atwood - Alias Grace

This is a book inspired by a murder more than 150 years old. This is a book where the main protagnist is a woman or lets say a girl who is accused of committing a cold blooded murder of not just her employer but also his suspected mistress. I have often claimed that life is like a jigsaw puzzle and Atwood agrees with this particular view of mine through the structure of her book. Each chapter begins with an actual quote from the period and in front of your eyes you see the quilt/jigsaw unfold. The chapters are named after a quilt pattern and the recurring image of Grace weaving a quilt  conveys the story she is weaving to the audience. Her story like the quilt she is weaving seems different from different angles.

The book tries to figure out if Grace was guilty or not.A question that is important to justice - for isnt true justice served only when the guilty or punished or should i say when the innocent are not? The question of guilt however, is not that important from a story telling perspective. Like the varying perspectives on Grace's quilt, being the judgmental creatures we all are, I am sure that every reader of the story had a pronounced view in mind seen from the fragments we decided to relate to. Grace tries to tell Jordan, the psychiatrist evaluating her guilt and trying to make her remember the day when the murders were commited what he wants to hear. By saying this, she makes the reader wonder if she is at all stating the truth ever. Her story at the same time seems too elaborate to be a lie. I was conflicted for quite a while on what to believe. I would not share what i surmised for i want anyone reading the book to be able to make that judgement. :)

The beauty of the book is not the pronouncement of the guilt but the view it provides of a century and a place where women were seen as the weaker creatures who were often betrayed by the men whose mercy they were under. Throw in the class and economic disparities in such an era, the notoriety of the crime and the youth of those involved especially Grace and you have a book which will appeal to different groups of people. The characterization is beautiful and a definite strong point in the book. Grace is the one who i loved, hated, mocked and the others were not as interesting to me.

Atwood has appealed to me partly because of the fact that she has very strong female characters. By having a very weak strong one, she had me hooked. Where Atwood's strength lies is in the fictional narration and the really honest attempt at not pronouncing a judgement. The various themes she explores around feminism, repression, dependency, individuality and of course class are all controversial and it is refreshing to see someone convey such a beautiful story with such difficult themes.

The book is a difficult read and definitely not for the weak hearted. If you do not like ambiguity, avoid the book. If you like to make your own judgements and want to see 19th century Canada through the eyes of a servant girl, go ahead.

Virtual Reality

I was reading a few old blog posts by jumping around in a very arbit fashion. I saw one about the social networking phenomenon and how it is changing the life of this very boring person who was writing about it. The article was more than two years old. And today, I thought i might as well take a stab at talking about it. As far as social networking sites go, I am pretty unsocial. I am not very active in them and even when i am i just check up on a few posts and reply to messages as i really dont like too many people being able to see the conversation i have with someone.  As i was thinking about this phenomenon which has changed the world so much so quickly, two major side effects that has influenced me stuck me.

1. The friendship expiry date approaches pretty fast. Let me explain the expiry date concept.I strongly believe that everything has an expiry date. I have ranted enough about the same in the past. Now, the expiry date for a few casual friendships varies depending on the level of maturity and growth of the individuals involved. I am not in touch with a few people i thought meant the world to me and I am in touch with a few who i did not care much for when i met.The latter is the second effect and the former has got to do with the expiry date concept.  I have actually lost touch with a few people as they assume that a facebook post in a wall the whole world can see and photographs are more than enough to keep in touch and convey to their "friends" about what is happening in their lives. I cannot talk in a public forum for too long as I have this paranoia that anything i say can be used against me anytime. But I am forced to in a way as gone are those personally impersonal emails which used to let you know about a thing or two. Gone are those mass emails or long phone conversations. For someone like me who does not actually network as much over the social sites, it has become pretty difficult to keep in touch with a few acquaintances. People usually move from one group to another in each of our lives. You have these bunch of friends who slowly become people who used to be your friends and finally move to mere acquaintances(the above mentioned expiry date). The process is gradual and you have a coping period where you can actually go ahead and expand your horizons. But thanks to the crazy networking, this cycle has become way too fast and at times I am left grappling for a few familiar faces. Maybe, the thin virtual link is more than what i would have had if it had not been there. Who knows?

2. There are just too many who can know whats happening to me. The other side of the coin is that I have a lot of people to whom i  unintentionally share details of my life that i otherwise would not have. Being a very private and paranoid person, this scares me at times. (The information shared is any way not much as apart from a few random photographs i actually dont network much, but remember i mentioned the word paranoid) I often see facebook "friends" somewhere and i realize that when the safety of the computer screen behind which i can think and post is not there, i dont know what to talk to them. I do love to talk to people and keep in touch but when we do not speak much to each other virtually, it is impossible to hold such conversations personally. I do not have the time or energy to organize people into groups and have posts just for certain groups. I think it is offensive in a way. Why have people you dont want to share things with in your list? Maybe i take the word friend a little too literally.

Maybe i am a few years late in talking about this phenomenon but this has affected me more in the recent past when i have in a way settled in life and as i take a few big steps in my life in the last few months, I slowly realise what i have lost in the last 4-5 years. There are just five, six people i speak about these changes and big mile stones in my life while the rest of the world who would have otherwise known about it is unaware. My college and some school friends have disappeared somewhere and i know where i can find them, but still they are not there and I dont know if it is a good or a bad thing. Time can only tell me.

This is in no way a  call for attention or a call from the long lost friends but just an observation about the virtual reality that is catching up so fast that it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to avoid it. :) The medium does seem to matter.

An average attempt - Colin Dexter's short story collection

I am a regular at this really quaint book store off Church street (rightly labelled the book worm) and the owner there recommends quite a few books to me frequently. He has usually been spot on but somehow this time, the book failed to impress me. It is a collection of short stories some of which feature the detective called "Morse" who tries too hard to be a combination of Sherlock and Poirot and a lot of other detectives i used to love.

The stories are seriously ok. But they cannot make me revisit and reread them. Some of them are so difficult to follow. Not because they require you to actually think but because they have not been etched properly. Considering it is a short story, such loose ends make the story a pretty shoddy read.The language is also very strange and i really dont know why it happens to be so unreadable in places. Maybe i am not updated to follow it but yes, like i mentioned earlier, it has lost me as a reader.

A decent read but for crime fiction, especially short stories, i would any day prefer Jeffrey Archer or Agatha Christie.