Monday, November 06, 2006

Guilt and Coincidence

Just finished Natural Flights of the Human Mind by Clare Morrall. (Haven't yet read her Booker-shortlisted Astonishing Splashes of Colour yet, although I hope to soon.)

Natural Flights tells the story of two lonely people, both social misfits. Peter Straker lives in a lighthouse on the edge of a crumbling cliff. His dreams are haunted by the voices of the 78 victims of an accident he caused almost 25 years previously, and can only cope with life by adhering rigidly to a self-imposed timetable. His mission is to find out as much as he can about his victims so that they won't be forgotten.

Imogen Doody, a school caretaker who inherits a run-down cottage in the same village, has also lived with guilt for much of her life - her sister committed suicide and she suspects that it may be her fault. She also nurses the deep sorrow of her husband's disappearance not long after their marriage, and copes by turning her formidable temper on everyone she encounters.

Where the book works best is in exploring the whole question of how it's possible to live with guilt, and be forgiven for an act which causes the death of others when (of course) nothing in the past can be changed.

I liked the main protagonist and enjoyed the slow unfolding of an unlikely love story. What kept me reading was that I was rooting for this awkward and unlovely middle-aged couple to find a way out of their pain and end up happy together in Doody's little cottage. (I am a romantic at heart, actually.)

But honestly, so much else in this book is a mess. There are just too many totally unbelievable coincidences. One or two you can swallow (after all real life throws some unbelievable stuff at us) but here there was just too much improbabilty to swallow. I feel there are way too many plot strands as the novelist attempts to fill in the background. Most seriously of all, most of the minor characters don't lift off the page and the dialogue is sometimes very flat. The pacing sometimes seemed wrong - particularly in the great rush of events towards the end.

Would I recommend it? Yes, for a lightweight, effortless read, and for the issues it raises. But not for its literary merit.

(Also read recently: Bill Bryson's memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. But since I want to review it won't say any more about it now.

What have you been reading?)

20 comments:

sympozium said...

Halfway through The Inheritance of Loss. Ugh!!! Like the first and rough draft of an unedited manuscript! THIS won the Booker??? And all those cliched and tired literary 'tricks' which only serve to annoy me.

Want my money back, Ms. Desai!

bibliobibuli said...

i liked them tired literary tricks ... she does them well, but there are definintely echoes of rushdie in them, aren't there?

Sham said...

I read morall's astonishing splashed of colour - you gave it to me for baking bread , Sharon!!
I enjoyed and loved the style and flow of the story.

As to Inheritance of Loss - I am halfway through it and yes as much as a lot of is cliched - I am enjoying it and there was a part about love which drove me to tears.

Am tired of Kashmir and separatist - went from reading Shalimar the Clown to What the Body Remembers to Inheritance of Loss - need to get out of India soon!!!!!!!!!

sympozium said...

As Desai would write: RushdieRoyandeveryotherIndianauthorshecanthinkof :-)))
Her first book was definitely better and funnier.

Extremely disappointing!

sympozium said...

Even Peter Carey's Theft was better...

Anonymous said...

Hi Ms. Bakar! I am attempting to read SHALIMAT THE CLOWN (don't ask, can't tell!) and ON BEAUTY simultaneously .......this is my way of reading. Criss-cross if one's beginning to bore me. Question: Will you ever highlight any of the National Book Awards' finalists..........

animah said...

I read Astonishing Splashes of Colour, well half of it anyway. I couldn't just couldn't continue. Way too slow moving with protaganist that I couldn't understand, wish she would just do something instead of moping and feeling sorry for herself. Perhaps I'll try picking it up again... took me weeks to getting even halfway.
I read Mothers Milk over the weekend - yes over the weekend, and finished it despite the usual hectic schedules of ballet classes, reviewing other people's documents, watching Flushed Away, which is absolutely brilliant (!!) and visiting friends over the festive season. So if a book can keep you going through all that, it had better be GOOD. You were right Sharon, I loved Mother's Milk.
There was a chapter from the mother's point of view where she felt a javeline go through her heart as her 2 year old was about to fall off a swing, or something. My God, that's what I face all the time! I felt the javelin as I read it. And the part where the child was always bouncing naked on the bed. This happens to me every night, forever. This writer is just amazing for his ability to take on a mother's, two very different young children and a father's point of view in a very true to life way.

Chet said...

Oracle Light by Paul Auster and Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran.

I've never read either authors before. The cover of Auster's latest book, Brooklyn Follies intrigued me and I decided to explore his writings further, and chose Oracle Light because one of the back cover blurbs said it was the Auster book to begin with for anyone not familiar with him.

As for Pomegranate Soup, the title and the cover attracted me to give the story a try. I've posted about this in one of your earlier blog postings that it's the Middle East version of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate.

Sorry for rambling - can you tell it's NaNo month?

sympozium said...

Just read your review of Inheritance of Loss on the amazon.com website :-)

The Visitor said...

The Sound And The Fury
William Faulkner

bibliobibuli said...

enjoying this!

sham - you'd better be prepared to come with drawn sword to the next reading group meeting if you say iol is cliched!

your bread was worth a book

sympozium - i still have her first book to read ... and theft

anon - i usually have more than one book on the go at the same time but i don't think i could read 2 quite demanding novels like that ... i even find it hard to read them back to back and need to pick up some non-fiction or a light read or some short stories to give my brain a chance to recouperate. what about the rest of you?

animah - glad you enjoyed mother's milk - i love the way st. aubyn treats the kids as intelligent sentinent watchful beings ... just like your sarah! btw got the email today about the plays and will blog it sunday

chet - i have a copy of brooklyn follies to review and have been reading auster's biography in the loo (bought from one of the warehouse sales). pomegranite soup sounds good ... tho' i'm not sure how many books in that vein i could read. does it feel derivative?

sympozium - yes i throw my reviews everywhere!!

visitor - one i've always meant to read ... please let us know what you think of it.

The Visitor said...

so far, it's been quite a difficult read for the first few pages. but i like Faulkner's style. it demands a lot of focus on the part of the reader.

Jade said...

Am still reading Neil-Oh-so-sexy-Gailman's Smoke and Mirrors after weeks... I don't want it to end! Looking forward to Fragile Things.

Also just started The Liar's Club - A Memoir by Mary Karr. Very engaging thus far!

Alex Tang said...

hi Sharon,

Just found and read your reviews on amazon. Nice. I have some review there too :)

madcap machinist said...

Recently read Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood one night when I couldn't sleep -- it put me to sleep the first couple of attempts but that time I finished it in four hours. It wasn't gripping; I skimmed through it after figuring out that it's the easiest way to get through the book.

The characters all seem so dysfunctional that they must be imaginary and they all sound the same to me, and since it's supposed to be one of Murakami's 'normal' fiction as opposed to be one of the more outlandish ones--I was looking forward to talking cats, unicorns etc.--I think I read the wrong Murakami for my tastes.

I finished the book feeling that I have not received anything new from reading it and for all the fuss about Murakami, felt extremely short-changed. A long time ago I might have enjoyed, maybe even loved it... but now I think that I've outgrown it.

Will try another Murakami--NW was interesting enough-- but not anytime soon.

Now reading Milan Kundera's Immortality (at a slower pace) and loving it. It is a book that I think is worth a few reads.

Subashini said...

i enjoyed kiran desai's the inheritance of loss. i thought it was miles better than hullabaloo which was a little show-offy and all over the place. what was the name of the character? sampath? i was hoping he'd just hang himself on the damn tree...

same with zadie smith - i adored white teeth but it was a bit, "look at my literary TRICKS!" while on beauty is calmer, and wiser. i loved that book.

just finished the other malaysian by farish noor, and that was a lot to chew on... still digesting bits and pieces of it, but his writing style is light and fluid - and he keeps his arguments short and concise, which is sometimes nice when you're reading a collection of essays. had fun remembering which ones i had already read on malaysiakini.

just started edmund crispin's the magic toyshop last night...

Alex Tang said...

What have I been reading? I missed that part and was wondering why everyone is sharing about the books they are reading.

I seem to be stuck in Afghanistan, my reading that is. Just finished Steven Pressfield's The Afghan Campaign. It is a novel about Alexander the Great's 3-years campaign to conquer the Afghan's tribal people. The campaign in history was the only one in which Alexander lost. It was seen through the eyes of a young Macedonian recruit, Matthias. Aside from the horrors of war, the indoctrination of soldiers into killing machines, it also comments on the clash of culture- Greek and Afghan. Matthias bought an Afghan slave girl, tried to free her and wanted to marry her, teaching her the Greek way of freedom. The girl, though she loved him, refused to married him, was offended that he did not kill her, that Matthias treated her as a person rather than an object and to complicate matter, it was the duty of her brothers to kill her and Matthias. Leaves me thinking how little I know about the Afghan culture and the role of women in it.

I am starting on Frederick Forsyth's The Afghan about a 5 year prisoner of Guantanamo Bay and senior member of the Taliban. Concurrent with this novel, I am also reading Sean Naylor's Not A Good Day to Die which is a non-fiction. It was about the military disaster which was Operatin Anaconda. On March 2, 2002, the US sent a force into Afghanistan in the beginning of an invasion. This book documented what went wrong.

As I said, somehow I have drifted to Afghanistan.

sympozium said...

"Afghan into books about Afghanistan." :-))))

the kimster said...

Bob Greene's AND YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD BE LAD.
Bill Bryson's THUNDERBOLT KID is next.

bibliobibuli said...

the bryson is fun kimster!