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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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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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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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Evading the Shadows by Rajesh Iyer

Often expectations get set even before the first page of the book is opened. Usually the attempt to give an idea of what the book is about using marketing blurbs, the genre of the book, the cover o…

Source: Evading the Shadows by Rajesh Iyer

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Indian Quills Reading Challenge

I have decided to participate in this challenge as I love to read Indian writing. I think this will be a great opportunity to discover more Indian writers and also spread the word about my favourite Indian writers. I think about one book a month so 12 books will be my target for this challenge.

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August 27, 2012 · 10:27 pm