Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train is a decently paced, entertaining & an adequately well crafted thriller. 

The first person storytelling where the principal narrator is an unlikeable human being; someone who makes your insides squirm & yet makes you root for them - is difficult to pull off and I think this book has managed to do that fairly well.

The premise is different and original - a depressed, alcoholic woman - who on her way to work via train everyday - likes to watch and obsess over a seemingly perfect couple living close to the train tracks - doing their household, routine things. The story starts from this innocuous fascination of this woman with the couple.

But then again, it becomes too messy and melodramatic after a while. You sort of figure out who the killer is and the characters take such an unnecessarily long & winded path to get to the conclusion that you wish there was a way to fast-forward the whole thing. To be honest, even though the mystery is good - I found the execution of the ending just meh.

In trying to make every character a complex, hot mess, some of them have actually turned out to be pathetic & pitiable.

Overall, I would give it a 3/5. 
Give it a try with realistic expectations and turning a blind eye to all the hype (this was apparently rated as one of top books of 2015).

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: 'The Man in the High Castle' by Philip K. Dick

Insanely entertaining, cleverly written & an intriguing piece of storytelling by Philip K Dick. 

The Man in the High Castle (TMITHC) falls under the category of alternative history fiction. But it is so much more than just the action and the drama that the characters in Dick's alternate version of the world go through. It is a profound commentary on the meaning and essence of a person's identity.

It's the 1960s. The Axis powers - Germany and Japan - have won the Second World War. Between the two, they basically control the world. The United States is split between 3 regions - everything east of Mississippi river is governed by the Nazi Germany (called the United States of America), the west coast is governed by Imperial Japan (called the Pacific States of America) and the middle states act as a buffer between the two 'countries'.

The story is told from the point of view of 6 or 7 people - living in the Japan controlled San Francisco. They are not 'heroes', they are everyday people - people who live and have no choice but to accept the world they live in - the world in which slavery is still legal, the world in which Jews are still being prosecuted.

The story adds an additional 'meta' level when in this alternate history, there is a famous  book - which talks about what would have happened had the Allies won the war. All the characters are reading, interpreting and philosophizing about this 'what-would-have-been'  scenario ! 

No matter how much it may appear so, the book is not "action-packed" - in the traditional sense. The point of the book is not to construct a dramatic action-fueled, gun-slinging heroes, but to point out how a person's psyche accepts the world around them. how it shapes their values, their fears, their joys. The characters ruminate about their choices, their day to day actions and the world around them in general. 
In fact, fair warning, at places the story becomes really trippy, borderline hallucinatory. And that is the beauty of the book!

The author points out, very astutely I must add, the racial and ethnic prejudices that we all have. The cross cultural miscommunication is depicted very well. It is interesting to see how peoples' sense of self and identity could be sculpted and influenced by history. 

In summary, a solid 4/5. Recommended.