Tuesday, 3 June 2014

1984 at The Playhouse Theatre

Not your average play, this stage production will blow your senses away. The stage opens with a book club discussing the novel and with a blink of the eye the scene changes and we are in Big Brother's world. 

Mark Arends and Hara Yannas as Winston and Julia respectively, are superb. They convince the audience and have us guessing even if we know the story. The secondary characters are also very well acted.  Orwell's themes of a regimental society, a world of voyeurism and the downsizing of vocabulary, are all explored in a creative way. 

The lighting is extremely effective and has to be commended. The flash lights paired with the roaring sound effects mean you will be holding on to the edge of your seat. The set designs must also be mentioned, changing quickly from a gathering around a table to a bedroom with surveillance and later to the dreaded Room 101. 

A real being thrown into the atmosphere kind of denouement, your nerves will be as shaky as poor Winston's. With no interval, it is intense and the final scenes are stifling, yet you will be compelled to watch. 

This production is every bit as chilling as Orwell describes in the original novel.  Not for the faint hearted, it will remain with you for a long time. A magnificent take on Orwell's novel on dystopia. 


Mark Arends, Hara Yannas, Tim Dutton, Stephen Fewell, Christopher Patrick Nolan, Matthew Spencer, Gavin Spokes and Mandi Symonds.
Lighting, sound and video design by Natasha Chivers, Tom Gibbons and Tim Reid 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera

This is the latest read for those that want to lose themselves in a book. Un-put-down-able, touching and hilarious. Set in Wolverhampton and spanning three generations of a Sikh family, this is a tale of family, culture, politics and love.

The plot is actually a rework of Arnold Bennett's, The Old Wives' Tale, but Sanghera cleverly uses the plot to bring to light themes closer to his own heart. It is told in a narrator’s voice and switches viewpoint throughout, giving readers the opportunity to see events through the different characters. There are also many plot twists that will leave you on the edge of your seat, especially as the narration then switches.

This is Sanghera’s second book, after his first, The Boy with a Topknot.  Readers of the first novel will appreciate the familiar themes and enjoy Sanghera’s newer style of writing. What I most enjoy about Sanghera’s works, is his ability to write with such insight. He describes the feelings of being brought up in a mixed culture with clarity and warmth as well as a touch of satire; a real talent. Another admirable trait is the ability to write about the characters so that they are alive and bouncing off the pages whilst also growing on the reader.

An engaging and poignant story, it will keep you guessing throughout and make you laugh. A perfect book club read.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

If you liked ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, then this latest novel from Khaled Hosseini will have you wishing it were morning commute time so you can catch more reading time.

A more modern edge to his previous writing style, this story spans over generations and features an array of characters from different countries. Poverty, families torn apart and the after-effects of war are the main themes in this novel. Each of the characters is affected by the war, whether it is directly or second-hand. They are a rich tapestry of people who are affected in life by their experiences, both good and bad. It is not only this, but how those experiences affect those around them that gives this novel that stimulating extra. The way that their interlinking tales is written about is skilful. Hosseini shows us how it is much like the way life is.

Although challenging to get your head around all the characters, it is worth reading slowly to see how they are all linked together. The narrative changes often which can leave you wondering if you are reading the same book at times. Some characters narrate in the first person, while others through letters or interviews, thus providing a real variety of reading styles to enjoy. The evocative writing is guaranteed to transport you and your heart will be wishing and hoping for their dreams.

Thought-provoking and captivating; an incomparable read. You will find yourself remembering fragments of it days after.

Friday, 11 October 2013

NW by Zadie Smith

The story follows four different individuals who have grown up in North West London in the Caldwell estate. Each of the characters struggles to get ahead in their life; be it due to social repression, acceptance or addiction. The parts dedicated to each character are not equal and the reader may feel denied from getting to know certain characters further. This is a clever technique that Smith uses highlighting how uncaring society can be.

Smith is a very talented writer, writing with humor and conviction about everyday topics as well as the taboo topics of modern London. The writing is versatile and non-confirmative. There is an interesting mix of description and direct speech and Smith breathes life into each of her characters. It is rewarding to be able to get to know the characters on such an intimate level, having a window into their thoughts. What I particularly love about Zadie Smith’s writing is the way in which she is able to write about her characters in a way that the reader is non-judging. There is the perfect balance of sympathy yet frustration for each of them that it keeps you gripped wanting to learn of their progress.

Smith ought to be commended for her sharp observations. She shows her real knowledge of the inner flows of society and is not afraid to focus on the issues surrounding ethnic minorities and the pursuit to rise above their own class. There are some delicate themes that pop up in NW. One of which is the role of the wife as a mother. The idea that society is unable to accept a marriage as a union between two, without children is played with. Leah feels this pressure from society to perform her duty as a woman to bear children. Another is the struggle that individuals face when they try to live a clean life and want to move on from the past. Society will constantly remind them of their past downfall.

Absolutely fascinating piece by Zadie Smith and an excellent addition to modern literature. Definitely recommend to all those brought up or living in London. It would make an excellent piece for literature students focused on topics of culture and race in ethnically diverse cities. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph

Set in Mumbai, Saraswati Park tells the story of a middle-class family. The complexities in their everyday lives and how they go through their journeys, sets this novel apart with a real edge and warm glow.

Mohun and Lakshmi take in their nephew, Ashish for a year while he studies for his degree. Each of them begins to think about their lives and what they yearn for, which inevitably brings about change. The pace is steady throughout, making it a natural and enjoyable read.

The narration is unbiased and we are given the opportunity to see life through the eyes of each character. In addition to this, they are written about with depth. As a result, we are filled with a real sense of satisfaction as they grow during the course of the novel. With Mumbai written about with such elegance, the surroundings tie together wonderfully with the characters.

A stunning debut novel by Anjali Joseph. It will leave echoes in your imagination.

Clover’s Child by Amanda Prowse

The kind of book that will leave you planning your next reading moment! Clover’s Child is set in 60's London.  Dot Simpson is a fun-loving 18 year old girl who loves nothing more than having a laugh with her best friend Barb and enjoying her part-time job in a haberdashery at a well-known department store. One day, she meets Sol, the most exotic person she has ever laid eyes upon and here is where this story begins.

1960's Britain wasn’t the most forgiving. One could even say that it was a crime to fall in love. Dot’s experience and losses leave her aching and lifeless. How will she regain her old self, move on from the past and love the one she is with?

Amanda Prowse has a real gift of writing. Her narration is skillfull – she cleverly switches narration and sympathies for characters will switch. Descriptions are so vivid and characters are written with such soul, that your stomach will ache from laughter at some points and eyes bawling with tears at others. I must add also that the era is captured perfectly.

Not just a love story, but a life story. Soppy at times but with plot twists and an unexpected ending. It will definitely leave you with a book hangover. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

A wonderful tale of an old man and his eventful life in which he finds himself in various accidental situations and meeting important world leaders. His humble nature and charming personality mean that he is unable to avoid getting into complicated situations, yet he manages to come out unharmed and making friends along the way. I was blown away by this book and upon finishing the last page, it made me smile to read such a tale and it to end so satisfyingly.

The characters in the novel are very imaginatively thought out. Jonasson gives us a background on the characters’ past histories, meaning that we warm to Allan’s group of oddball friends. I particularly liked this about Jonasson’s style of narration. The individual stories do not eat up too much of the main narrative, yet are easy to glide through.

The message coming through from the book is to not take anything in life too seriously. Whether it is authoritative figures, or disastrous turn of events, everything always has a way of working out just right. Additionally, the way that the characters all complement each other show how life is full of differences, making it interesting and colourful.

Originally written in Russian, the charm of the novel is not lost in this translation. Simple yet effective writing, and a unique style of humour; the translators must be commended.
Witty, informative and enjoyable. A great read for almost any type of reader.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road is one of those books that will make you want to get off your backside and do all the adventurous things you've always dreamed of. Set during the Beat movement in the USA, the novel features two main characters that go on a road trip around the USA in search for fulfilment and pleasure.

The two friends encounter many different people and experiences on their journey. The erratic writing style mimics the minds and lifestyles of the characters. Although there is thrill seeking and pleasure, there is also the deep personal quest for meaning and belonging.

Kerouac writes with real exuberance for the good, the bad and the ugly. There is pleasure seeking through vices, yet there are also the squabbles and the exhaustions. The negative as well as the positive add to the experiences. This gives the novel a real edge as it captures the journey that the characters make, searching for more than conventionalities that society offers. The array people that the characters meet along the way and the conversations that they have really highlight this and are some of the best written parts of the novel.

One aspect of the writing that must be commended is how Kerouac manages to heighten the readers’ senses; make you hear the music, feel the sweat and smell the whiskey.

A magnificent mix of autobiography and fiction, this novel kick starts the cult American road trip style movies that have hit Hollywood since. Inspiring and enlightening.

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

‘I’ve Got Your Number’ begins straightaway on a mystery and the novel does not stop.  After one is solved there is another, more of a ‘who done it’ which will keep you guessing till the very end.  As well as the mystery however, the novel has humour and of course, romance.

What I most loved about this novel is the way that the characters develop. The way you learn about them gradually, as you would in real life, is natural. I especially enjoyed the way that Kinsella unravels traits in the characters showing her observations of human nature, making it a fascinating read.

This novel is a good balance of verse and direct speech, so you are unlikely to get bored of the pace. The footnotes and text message parts ensure that you are kept entertained and on a reading high throughout.

Excellent storytelling and easy to read, you will be charmed to keep reading past bedtime. Full of both cringe and laugh out loud episodes, this latest Kinsella makes perfect holiday reading.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray

Poor Things is not like any other novel I have read before. It is not only the storyline, but the characters, illustrations and general writing style that make this piece of work by Gray an imaginative and intelligent masterpiece.

Gray writes in a way which really captures the reader. No matter how much you may shake your head at how unrealistic events are, you still drawn in to the storyline. His imagination and creativity work in such a way that key issues as class divide, power and feminism are written about with real passion beneath the bizarre plot. Further to the key issues raised, Gray shows a side of scientific knowledge and insight into the human psyche in Poor Things.

As for Gray’s characters, they are so real, you can almost taste them. They are quirky and eccentric, yet they manage to warm the reader and there is a real sense of charm in the way that they are described.
There are illustrations in the novel which are also by Alasdair Gray. These may seem exaggerated at times, but really add flavour to the novel. There is also the mocking edge and amusing side to them which make you imagine events with more vibrancy.  

What I loved most about this novel is how the plot itself seems to undermine and question itself. Further to this, Bella’s version of events that follow after the novel raise even more interesting questions. You are constantly left speculating on issues. The beauty of it is that whichever way certain facts are depicted, there is no correct version of events.

You’re in for a real rollercoaster of a ride. Not for the light-hearted though.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Doll's House by The Young Vic

The Young Vic’s version of Henry Ibsen’s classic play is a cleverly creative take, bringing the themes of Ibsen’s original to the forefront of modern day society. The play is a study of the darkness of secrecy and how it can shatter relationships.

Hattie Morahan plays the role of Nora with exuberance and passion. Her ability to switch from doll-like role to her husband, to a very trying mother and wife to her childhood friend, Christine, is remarkable. What strikes me most is how the audience feel rather grated by her childlike and shallow personality; wherein even the mentioning of the word money lights up Nora’ eyes, to feeling rather sympathetic of her by the end of the play.

Scenes which highlight Nora’s role in the house are highlighted by the way in which she dances the tarantella for her husband; the notion of pleasing her husband by looking beautiful on his arm and at parties to show off proudly speaks volumes about their relationship. What’s more, the ban of chocolate imposed in the house further highlights this. The way in which the married couple interact with one another underneath the disguise of domestical bliss, is full of tension and unsaid words. The audience are left gripped and humoured at the same time.

Nora is a trapped, not only by her relationship, but by the financial situation she faces, which in turn acts as a catalyst for her to walk out of her life.

The skilfully designed set is beautiful and plays a large part in creating the mood for the scenes. The revolving set shows times passing and makes the problems that Nora faces ever more real. Parallel to this, the music and sounds heighten to mood and give the audience a real feel of what’s to come.
I especially admire the way that The Young Vic manages to put on stage an old classic revived in a way that it shows its relevance in modern day society. The presence of a baby emphasizes the realities.
Fascinating, wonderfully creative and highly commendable acting. One not to be missed.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Locked On by Tom Clancy

Best described as a political action thriller novel, those who are familiar with Clancy’s style will be pleased to know that ‘Locked On’ is every bit of mystery that his fans know and love.

The novel works with current issues to base the main plot around. There are various sub plots in the novel which will appeal to those who love a challenging read. It has to be said that Clancy’s knowledge of government and international issues are really highlighted in this latest piece; which in turn work well to create intrigue. It manifests itself as a well-researched novel.

Readers of his novels will be familiar with the characters from previous Clancy works. Nevertheless, the characters are described in such depth, that first time readers will also feel that they have known the characters for years. There are also some new heroes and villains in this latest piece which heighten the drama.

Without giving away any of the plots, it should be noted that this book is different than previous ones in that it comments on a different kind of governmental situation and provokes thought.

Full of riveting action and will keep you in suspense throughout. A real gem for Clancy fans.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby has a real charm about it and is one of the kinds of books that you know you ought to add to your book list. The mysterious title gives nothing away. Set in 1920s, New York, the story opens with a young man discovering paths in a new life.

Nick Carraway narrating the novel, immediately draws in the reader as he sets up a new life in as a young trader. There is a sense of mystery from the start regarding his new neighbourhood and in particular his neighbour, who throws lavish parties every weekend. As the story progresses, the reader uncovers little by little of the great unknown, yet you are kept hooked with surprises and plot twists until the very end.

The novel is a commentary on the Jazz Age; the post-war ambience and The American Dream are presented through his characters. The quest for a new life, the preoccupation of the classes and most importantly the hunger for money possess the characters and cause their rise and fall. Scott Fitzgerald creates his characters so that they come alive.  The simple, yet descriptive writing style means that the reader has an advantage. This is through the layering of narrative perspective and use of pathetic fallacy. Tom will make you want to earn millions, Daisy will make you want to love and Gatsby will make you want to dream.

The beauty of this novel for me is how accessible it is today. Although a classic, it is timeless as the notions are all things readers will be able to identify with. The disintegration of the American Dream and the decay of social and moral value draw parallels on capitalism and consumerism of today’s world. One to read. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

A captivating story and epic novel. This book takes you on a long journey, with twists and turns and trials and tribulations. Although set in Mumbai, India, this novel is far from just a cultural book. The main character, Lin, starts a new life in Mumbai, which is a journey through life and all that it has to offer.

The first few chapters of the novel made me laugh outrageously. From the nodding Indian heads to the first shower in the village, the depictions of situations are brilliant. Settling in India with Lin was a gripping read which had me turning pages quickly. As Lin begins to settle down and makes a close knit community of friends, the story shifts. I particularly enjoyed learning about Mumbai, the nature of the city and its dark side. The way in which Roberts has captured and highlighted these is superb. Furthermore, Mumbai acts as a symbol for life itself. The lessons we are taught from Lin’s living in Mumbai are for life itself rather than a survival guide for India’s chaotic city.

I consider the strength of this novel to lie in the strong characterisation of its main characters. Through the artisitic descriptions, we grow to love some of the characters, such as Prabaker and Didier, and have a hunch about others, such as Abel Khader Khan and Karla. Although we know no more than the narrator himself, the way in which we instantly warm to some characters more than others is indicative of excellent characterisation. In addition to this, we are given a window into Lin’s heart through his deep sense of warmth and love for India almost straightaway and is further enforced throughout the novel. This is a very impressive writing technique rendered by Roberts.

The novel has many philosophical messages and life lessons which we are taught by living through Lin’s experiences. Learnings in the form of quotations which are evoked by the characters, in particular Karla and Khader Khan, add to the story. They give it a fantasy like, almost biblical element. This works really well with the themes of black market doings, corruption and general illegal activity that the novel works around. The message that everything is centred around money and corruption, even purity and love, is highlighted numerous times. Although a rather disturbing thought, we are able to piece together the events of the novel as a result.

I really enjoyed going on Lin’s journey of growth. The first person narrative style of this novel lends itself really well as it enables us as the reader to live through not only the hardships that he encounters, but also his experiences. This, in turn helps the reader feel as though they have also grown as a person. I think this is a unique feature of the book, which makes so many people enjoy and recommend it to others.

What I disliked about the novel is the long narratives of conversation between Khader Khan and Lin. Their spiritual conversations were lengthy and rather tiresome to read. I also found the prison descriptions and human suffering extremely difficult to read. However, I do believe that these parts are integral and add to the novel, as they show both the hardships and pleasures of life. The language in these sections of the novel are not as gripping as earlier parts of the novel and as a result, many readers give up reading the novel.

I believe that the success of this book is down to the strong ingredients it has to make a great novel; these being, friendship, adventure, philosophy and romance. A beautiful tale, in parts vivid and in parts brutal. The story and the way it is narrated, gives every reader the opportunity to become more well-rounded thinker and shrewder person. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Three Sisters at The Young Vic

Benedict Andrews puts an unconventional and modern twist to the classic Russian play by Chekhov. Although traditionalists may be unimpressed with Andrews' take, you cannot deny the creative and unique way he brings this to stage. 

Olga, Masha and Irina are three sisters, all well-educated, living in a provincial town. All three of them dream of Moscow and starting a new life there one day, where they will live meaningful lives full of happiness. The sisters are idealistic and full of hope. With their younger brother's marriage to a brash lady acting as a catalyst, life changes for them, but not in the way they hope for. 

One of the most impressive things about this play for me was the way that the set was designed. It was minimalistic, yet portrayed the characters' situations and emotions. The stage is put together with several grey tables. These tables move around and away as the story runs. Grey symbolises the ennui and lack of excitement in the lives of all three sisters. The bold edges and angles of the tables also represent their two-dimensional lives as well as the lack of opportunity and hope for them. As the sisters begin to lose hope, little by little, the tables are turned, eventually they are dismantled and taken away from the stage. By the third Act, after the town fire, the stage is bare. The sisters are exposed to their worse nightmare: immobility. There is a mound of earth on which the three sisters seek solace in one another. Unlike the first Act, where they are far apart and there is little dialogue between the three, on top of the mound of earth, the sisters are huddled together and are finally bonding. Each of them longed for better and as their idealism turns into realism, they are united again and stronger.

Other small touches in Andrews' version include a few moments of silence as all the characters watch a spinning top spin away, which evokes their lives spinning away before their eyes and out of their control. There is also the sing-a-long by all the characters to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. All of these touches emphasize the play's themes of ennui, diminished hope and the attitude of 'the grass is always greener'. The key message throughout that happiness is a myth is also underlined.

Unlike the traditional stage theatre, The Young Vic is an intimate theatre and has a surrounding audience. I feel that for this play, the stage worked particularly well. The music, the ringing bell and the characters' frustrations were all felt and heard by the audience, bringing these issues and themes alive and to the forefront. This gave the play an edge; although a classic Russian piece, these are modern day issues each and every one of us face at some point in our lives. There is no happy ever after with frills, nor curtains drawn at the end of the play. 

Strong symbolism and set design, impressive performances and a unique take on direction: a play that will be talked about for years to come. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Paris Je T'Aime

Paris Je T'Aime is a collection of short stories set in the different districts of Paris. There are eighteen short stories which make up the whole film, which is a cinematic homage to the city of love. Each tale is markedly unique, and specific to the quirky style of its director. There are contributions from an array of directors and actors from around the globe. The theme of love is explored in different ways, from platonic love to love of the city, as well as the more obvious of romantic love. 

Each director presents their own short film with a different cast of characters and each varies in length. Some are fully developed stories, whilst others are just small glimpses into a situation. There are a few rather abstract stories also which are more reliant on imagery, dialogue and cinematography. Even though you only get a taste for each of the stories, the film does not seem fragmented or isolating. If anything, they all piece together as a jigsaw, evoking similar messages throughout of longing, connection and being. 

Those that are expecting a typically romantic film with a love story, will be shocked, surprised and maybe even disappointed. Although there are positive stories, there are also some very sad stories. Not every scene of Paris is full of light either. The mixture of stories allows for a multi-painted, multi-dimensional city, full of mystery, passion and humour combined. Furthermore, not every short story is in French, with a range of scenes from directors around the world, we are given the point of view of Paris as an outsider and Paris as the other, giving the film more depth and analysis.

I particularly liked ‘Bastille’ by Sergio Castellito, which is about a man who is on the verge of leaving his wife when he discovers she is terminally ill, and thus resolves to stay with her to make her dying days as pleasant as possible. The memorable quote ‘by acting like I was in love, I fell in love with my wife again’ is beautiful and makes a refreshing change to the typical extra-marital affair story. I also really liked the short story by Gurinder Chaddha, 'Quais De Seine' which features a teenage boy who is fascinated by a young Algerian Muslim girl after helping her from a fall. It is beautiful to see them become friends and there is a real message of anti-segregation and multicultural Paris here.

A spectacular collection of short films which highlight the beauty of cinema and showcases talent through an exploration of different themes and visuals. ‘Paris Je T’Aime’ does wonderfully to frame Paris as a character, the main character, that not only acts as a backdrop, but as an outlet and cause for emotions and events. A delightful film: cohesive, poignant, creative and a real celebration of talent.


Monday, 9 April 2012

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A brilliant novel, informative and heart rendering. Set in the seventies in a large Indian town which is unknown to the reader, this novel chronicles the story of four individuals from very different sectors of the Indian caste system. Mistry is a spectacular storyteller. He is able to write with great detail of the minutiae of daily life without draining the novel with heavy descriptions, as well as link the narratives of the four characters into the larger picture. 

Each character is described in such a way that you feel as though you have met them in real life. The dialogues that break up the narrative also add to this effect. You cannot help but be drawn to the characters and their plight. In addition to this, the way that the relationships between the characters unfold and develop is natural, with trust being gained slowly through experiences. There is a real warmth to the relationships as the distance that the characters try and preserve due to differences in status or generation become discarded once happiness shines through.

The novel is full of stark contrasts. There are the obvious contrasts between rich and poor, life in the city versus the village and less obvious ones such as differences in attitudes. Even acts of kindness are undercut by inhumanity and cruelty. The contrasts serve as a constant reminder to the reader of the differences in life, especially in India, and how these combine to make a 'fine balance'. Despite it being a rather bleak and depressing novel most of the time, the title serves as a realistic, yet positive reminder of the beauty of life is because of this balance. In Mistry's own words, the 'fine balance' is between hope and despair. The lives of the characters are harsh, full of challenges and injustices. However, there is always perseverance, optimism and even humour. The finale of the novel shows how three of the characters get by and are still smiling. The only character that does not manage to keep up the balance is unable to bear life and its horrors destroy him. 

Mistry writes with such clarity into the political and social state of 1970s India and how deeply embedded the caste system was in society. There is a real sense of injustice shown in the corruption brought about by money and power, which is conveyed in the multiple narratives of turmoil and humiliation, which shock, appall and disgust the reader. Yet, Mistry portrays the beauty of human relationships that endure life through every hurdle. I especially love how he writes with no bias towards any particular religion or caste. Parsis, Muslims and Hindus are all shown to have kindness in their hearts and be able to be swayed by corruption. The same goes for the different castes. Even in the midst of evil and tragedy there is a message of hope because A Fine Balance is pivoted on the unlimited capacity that human beings have to survive and to selflessly care for one another. In his characters, Mistry has recreated the fates of many throughout the world through political unrest, war and other tragedy.

On finishing the novel, the reader may feel a little bit as though they have grown in spirit. Its power makes one appreciate the life a Westerner in modern day is blessed with. The novel is also uplifting in that it highlights how despite all, love, care and kindness prevails all.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Better Half - A Gujarati film by Ashish Kakkad

'Better Half' is a beautiful tale of friendship, marriage and companionship. Although in Gujarati and set in the capital, Ahmedabad, this film speaks many languages and is appreciated by many all over the world. It depicts the discrepancies between traditional and cultural versus modern society's thoughts and values on marriage and married life, in a simple but powerful way.

The film opens with the main character, Manav, as he prepares to move to the city in order to start a new role in his career. Right from the start, we see his family lovingly tease him on thinking about settling down with a wife. Manav is in no rush to get married and believes that meeting someone ought to be natural; he wouldn't dream of marrying just to settle down in a traditional family unit. Manav makes it clear that he would  much rather have a lifetime companion to share his life with.

Love does indeed creep up on Manav, and when he least expects it. We follow Manav's journey in love as he marries the girl he falls for and as the newleyweds marry, each of them learns the harsh reality. Many things get in the way of love: household chores, misunderstandings and the chaotic career life. As well as this, financial difficulties put a strain on their marriage. What both Kamini and Manav soon learn is that love is no bed of roses and that compromises are a must when it comes to happiness.

'Better Half' teaches us the values that should be learned and digested, whether we are from the older generation and living a simple countryside life, or a young professional living a hectic city life. Full of natural city life scenes, customs and surroundings, this film not only kicks you with nostalgia, it brings a touch of realism. There is even some music and dreamy scenes for the romantic film aficionados amongst you. All lyrics are written by Chirag Tripathi . Multi-talented, Kakkad, even features as a voice-over for a few of the characters that feature in the film.

What I most like about this film, is watching how the characters grow and develop. There isn't a particular siding or focus on any one character, as each of them plays an important role and have a voice in the film's message. This reflects how every individual, whether in society, family or in the workplace, has a distinct role and importance, and without one individual, the unit would crumble. One scene I particularly liked that highlights just this, is where Manav's mother is consoling her daughter in law and supporting her rather than taking the side of her son. Her character breaks the norm of the stereotypical unsupportive mother-in-law in the Indian family unit. 'Better Half' also reminds us about challenges and compromises one should learn to make in life in order to live harmoniously  Furthermore, the notion that everyone must work together to be happier and improved is also evoked. There is plenty of food for thought in this film.

An absolute delight of a film that can be enjoyed by all, young or old. A hearty congratulations to Ashish Kakkad for bringing a fresh breath of air to the Indian film industry, may there be many more ahead.

"Marriage has some thorns, but celibacy has no roses." - Vernon K McLellan.

"Unbroken happiness is a bore. It should have its ups and downs." - Moliere.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Based in the sixties during the Nigerian Civil War, this is one of those few books that leave you staring at the final page, not wanting to believe that it's all over. I was completely consumed by this novel and have been taking every opportunity to discuss it with others since finishing it. 

The novel tackles a delicate subject, the lead up to and the course of Nigeria's Biafra War in the 1960's. It is told in a very readable and accessible way. The events unfold through the eyes of three central characters, who are swept along in the chaos of civil war. They are forced together and separated in unexpected ways throughout the war, each witnessing events that affect them deeply. 
Adichie writes beautifully, with strong imagery and fitting words. At times you are given the character's most intimate and private thoughts, and the way these are described makes the reader feel a part of the drama. The characters are so well rounded and realistic, that you can relate and sympathise with every single one of them at some point in the novel. The relationships between Olanna and Odenigbo; Olanna and Kainene; Kainene and Richard; Odenigbo and his group of intellectuals all develop or deteriorate throughout the events that shape the novel. Ugwu's loyalty remains throughout his dabble with base brutality. The strong contrasts in their lives are shown through these events, the ease with which life was lived before the war, the fear, panic and inhumane responses that ensued amongst both the rich and the poor. Furthermore, the inaction of the international community is something that is treated delicately yet commented on. 

Interwoven in the main plot are other important themes such as the necessity and ineffectiveness of emergency relief aid, for the innocent people displaced by war and through corruption and misappropriation. The use of child soldiers and the horrors they are forced to endure is also treated in the novel, making it particularly realistic yet raw. The role of religion in a war, wartime propaganda, how tribal loyalties and the political elite can tear a country apart are subjects all written about with care. Something that particularly stood out for me, was how the way in which the Western world perceives Africa and the realities of war. There is a particular scene that stands out, where two American reporters are more interested in the death of one white journalist than they are of one thousand local, black civilians. This irony comments on how all the aid and media coverage that the Western world use to show their sympathies are just political statements rather than genuine heartfelt, and how at the end of the day we are all human, yet across borders, divides and governments, we are all divided.

The structure of the novel worked well, creating intrigue and suspense throughout. It was gripping from start to finish and even though it is quite a harrowing and distressing account of war, it speaks volumes. The author's passion and dedication for her country is shown throughout, through the vivid descriptions as well as through the use of authorial intrusion. The way that traditional food and traditions are described, as well as how people are portrayed as resilient and loyal, leave you with a feeling that you have been to Nigeria yourself.

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is the symbol of the short-lived Biafran state. Adichie has created a masterpiece in this novel. Storytelling at its best, it is a major contribution to African literature and highly recommended.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla

'Coconut Unlimited' is set in the nineties within an immigrant community. The focus is on adolescence and the trials and tribulations of growing up. Our narrator and main character, Amit, is a first generation British Gujarati. 

The novel open with the three characters, Amit, Anand and Nishant who have reunited since their school days for Amit's stag night. After this introductory chapter you are taken back to Harrow in the 1990s where they grow up. Amit has a lot of expectation and pressure from his parents who have high ambitions for him. At school, he and his two friends are marked out as the only Asians in an exclusively white private school. Here, they are subjected to tirades of racial abuse from not only their peers, but also their teachers. Amit also feels estranged from his Asian community. From all this teenage angst, he begins to follow his creativity and create a hip-hop group called 'Coconut Unlimited' with his two pals. 'Coconut' is what he is nicknamed by his sister, as he is considered white inside his racial colouring exterior. 

What makes this novel  special is that you are able to get to know the characters as real life personalities. Shukla does well to not over describe, making it light and able to relate to. The novel tackles the themes of teenage angst and coming of age as well as cultural differences and finding your identity. As a result, most readers will be able to relate to the characters, regardless of whether they like hip hop music or are brought up in a mixed cultured society. There are many laugh out loud moments where you are reminded of the exuberance of youth and the fashion faux-pas. 

I would say that the only way in which this novel disappoints me slightly is that there are several controversial issues are touched upon, but not explored later on. The ending also feels rather abrupt where the characters are rounded off quickly. However, I think this may be the author’s way of showing how teenage friendships wear away through life. 

Full of compassion and nostalgia, a great first novel and worthy runner up for the Costa First Novel Award.