I’m thinking of ending things by Iain Reid

One drive through a sandstorm, a relationship in the balance, an ending not entirely a surprise yet deeply satisfying in its cleverness.

Wow! Phew! My mind supplied these words on finishing this book of its own accord. This book had taken it on a bizarre trip that got creepier by the page.

It was like a nightmare that scares you to the soles of your feet. One that infringes on your reality for several seconds after you have opened your eyes. One that makes you glad that it was all a dream after all and once this realization hits, you begin to recognize the brilliancy of its content.

The fear didn’t go entirely, it stayed with me a while after I turned the last page. I managed to distract myself but I know the feeling is there every time I go back to think about this book.

Apart from being a mind-bending thrill, the story also has plenty of food for thought. Take the beginning where Reid talks about thoughts being more real than actions or later when his character, Jake discusses why it is so hard for us to believe that the person sitting next to us might be the smartest person in the world, or when Jake’s girlfriend claims that it is impossible to be the best kisser in the world as kissing is not an individual activity. All of these and more are scattered throughout the book that tie in nicely with the central theme of the book when it is revealed.

In conclusion, this one is a roller coaster for the mind so pick it up if you are up to the twists and turns.

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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

A macabre tale of scandal and murder in the 19th century, the story of Grace Marks was all over the newspapers of the time. It is this dividing person of Grace Marks that inspired Alias Grace.

At the beginning of the book, Margaret Atwood’s Grace starts to tell us how over time she has been called a monster, a halfwit, an innocent child, a seductress, etc. and ends her monologue by speculating how she can possibly be all of these things. She though does imbibe all of these qualities at once. This I felt gives a truer portrait almost a century later of the real woman on whom this story is based.

Apart from weaving a tale which is part fiction, part truth, Atwood brings many issues to the forefront. Chief among them is how news media even at that time distorted the truth. People believe what they want to believe and this unfortunate truth must have persecuted countless individuals as it continues to do so.

Atwood brings across this sense of being trapped. Imagine your every word, every action is put under a public microscope. It is like being on a reality show where the camera is always on you. Everything you do can be misconstrued and the penalty is death or life imprisonment instead of mere elimination.

The other side of the story told by the fictional doctor Simon Jordan makes you wonder how much of Grace’s tale is true. At the end you are left to wonder or given the freedom to decide for yourself about what might be true and what might not.

But that is not all Alias Grace is, it isn’t just a murder mystery with a vague ending. It is the story of women, the story of class differences especially among women, the story of the stigma attached to mental illnesses and the consequent ill treatment of the mentally ill, the story of an unjust and biased system that relies heavily on personal prejudices and agendas.

The real Grace Marks was pardoned after being in prison for over 30 years. There is no trace of her after she left prison. Atwood’s end is a fictional one that she probably hoped for the real woman.

But at the end of the book, for me, the Grace Marks in Atwood’s book seemed to have evolved, from a clueless teenager to a clever player of the game of perceptions. Over the years, she seemed to have learned the art of playing the part expected of her and hide the truth so deep that maybe she herself lost any knowledge of it.

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Boy of fire and earth

There is a beginning in every ending. Nowhere does it feel truer than at the end of this book. I want more, I want the future of Wahid’s story. I would like to know what happens next for him and for the world. So I hope Sami Shah decides to write another book or books that explore more of this world within a world that he has created.

But let me get back to the book that is already there, the one I just finished reading. As someone who reads constantly, to me, books represent worlds, universes made out of letters, words and sentences. Universes that I can escape into, immerse myself in by simply absorbing said letters, words and sentences.

The world created by Sami Shah, the one of Boy of Fire and Earth, was one such from which I did not want to emerge. Based in Karachi, filled with creatures that range from the good to the bad and ugly, dangers like the end of our planet and the coming of judgement day interspersed with moments of a city drowning in injustice, fear, apathy, hope, love and friendship, the book is compelling.

It has left many questions in my mind. Questions created by this story without being overt about it. The characters, like Wahid – our protagonist, Iblis – the devil, the physics professor, they all ask them, struggle with them but with a subtlety that is rare. Big decisions are made, to destroy the world and save it, without long speeches and words of honour. This simplicity pierced my mind more sharply than any eloquent declarations could have done.

I connected to the overwhelming suffering, pain and injustice that define Karachi in this book as well as the casual acceptance of it all by the characters who choose to focus on their individual lives rather than get involved in any sweeping questions of humanity, the city or country. But eventually it all boiling down to it anyway.

More than the language, it was the imagination in this book that appealed to me. It is not poetic, it does not do enough to make its characters breathe or solidify its world but the imagination behind the words is amazing. Simple words are used to describe a fantastical universe full of djinns, chudails, zombies and monsters. So, as a reader I took these simple words and let my imagination create everything that was described. After all, what is a story but the joint effort of the teller and the listener, the writer of it and its reader.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the past, a character like Offred would have made my blood boil. I would be silently seething as I read and screaming at her in my head to do something. “Stop looking at the flowers and mooning about the weather! Strategize!” would be my constant refrain. But not this time.

It is funny how fiction introduces me to myself so often. I have changed and this change is visible in the way I reacted to Offred and her tale. I accepted as I read that some times you are a hero, a fighter, a warrior and sometimes it takes all you’ve got to simply survive.

This book while thought-provoking was highly disturbing and uncomfortable to the point of making my skin crawl. Mainly because despite its bizarre world, it has possibility on its side.

As I read, it began to dawn on me how easy it would be to render someone like me powerless. One minute I matter and the next my entire life, beliefs, everything I hold dear becomes inconsequential. And there would be nothing much I would be able to do about it.

The sense of helplessness is palpable and as I went along with Offred on her journey I felt it. The lack of information, inability to find out anything or change it felt like a stark contrast to the click gratification for anything and everything.

The understanding, not just mere intellectual knowledge but real knowing in your bones kind of understanding, is difficult. To do that is to confront a situation again and again so that real learning can happen.

It was a glimmer of this understanding that came to me in the course of this story. Not everything can be changed. Not everything is fixable. I am only superficially in control of my life. All I can do is hope and try.

At one point in the book, the narrator says, “I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light…” this about sums it up.

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The silent wife by A. S. A. Harrison 

In the description this book has been labeled a gripping psychological thriller though I believe this is quite a stretch. It is actually extremely slow paced with barely any major twists along the way or in the end.

But if you were to read it merely as an exploration into human nature and human relationships then the book is not a bad read. The bit I really enjoyed was how Harrison has created a sense of always keeping the reader out of the loop of what is really going on with the characters. Half formed thoughts, a steadfast shying away from self analysis, imtentionally or unintentionally burying oneself in the minutiae of routine life are hallmarks of Harrison’s characters. It is impossible to not feel a wall surrounding the protagonists of this book that can never be penetrated. We have all met people of this type. They seem normal on the surface but there is a sense of something missing. The knowledge that maybe this person isn’t aware of it either and doesn’t even want to be made aware is obvious throughout the book.

Other than that I enjoyed all the information about psychological theories etc. peppered throughout the book. My only gripe was that I would have liked the book a lot better and not felt an immense disappointment had I not been led to believe that this was a thriller with a massive twist which never came.

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The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

To me the psychological thriller has always been scarier than any form of supernatural horror story. It is the premise of a seemingly benign environment, sweet, happy and idyllic beneath which lurks something evil and sinister that gets me every time. A good psychological thriller scares my very soul and I do enjoy a good fright.

In my quest for a gripping thriller I came across the name of Wilkie Collins. Article after article touted him as the author who first wrote books containing unreliable narrators, evil characters, deadly secrets and so on. Someone who wrote stories that are innocuous and mundane on the surface but with an undercurrent of the macabre. One article even called him the father of the modern psychological thriller. I had to read his books.

I found my first Wilkie Collins book called The Woman in White available online. The book was written in 1859 and it is Wilkie Collins’ fifth book. The tale is told by multiple narrators in the form of a witness statement. Collins has used the device of multiple narrators very effectively to create mystery and suspense without the whole seeming too unrealistic.

Albeit the woman in white reads more like a mystery and suspense novel, I can see why it is the precursor for the modern psych thriller. It has all the trappings of a Victorian love story but from the first page you know that this is no regular romance. Though more than the plot of the novel or the thrill of the mystery, it is some of the idiosyncratic characters that are the most memorable.

The mystery and the fate of these characters kept me reading till the end even though the book felt over long and slow paced. This is of course my failure as a reader more than a failure on the writer’s part. Most books these days are fast paced with no lack of action, page turners so to speak. Colllins’ book is not a page turner in that sense but it does enough to make you want to get to the end and maybe consider reading a few more by him.

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Some stories are written in such a way that their words penetrate your skin to go straight through to your bones and into the very marrow of your being. As soon as I read the first two pages of thi…

Source: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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