The Big Read

No.100 – Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie Read 18/7/15

Affiliate Link:Midnight’s Children (Vintage Classics)

I had hoped to save No.100 of the BBC Top 100 for my last book as it has such a neatness to it but it didn’t quite work out that way. Being over 600 pages long Midnight’s Children counts as one of the 15 long books I am trying to read this year. I had originally intended it to be only books over 700 pages but I buckled. Anyway, I picked up Midnight’s Children as I continue to avoid War and Peace. 

The story is narrated by Saleem Sinai who like a thousand others across India was born at the exact hour of India’s independence. He and these other so called “Midnight’s Children” have mysterious and magnificent powers and as the letter to Saleem from the Prime Minister proclaims, there lives shall be a reflection of the new India’s.

As much as I love classics I also love reading books outside of the western tradition and Midnight’s Children is an excellent specimen. I learnt so much about modern Indian history as this book is as much India’s life story and it is Saleem’s. Much like The God of Small Things it is a very stylish book full of evocative language and unconventionally structured. The linguistic style works perfectly to conjure up a world both alien and familiar.

I loved that the narrative told the story of Saleem’s grandparents and parents so that we come to know the journey of the characters that have such an impact on Saleem’s journey. This bigger picture means we see the significance of the smaller details that keep appearing like the silver spittoon and perforated sheets. I enjoyed the theme of recurrence, of things too neat to be a coincidence. It would have been much too neat had I left this book until last, unnervingly so, but the way things turned out has restored my faith in the random nature of the world.

Despite the magical realism of this book it is a very honest depiction of a troubled country. It doesn’t shy away from controversy and upset quite a few politicians I am sure. I liked that about it, the lines between what is real and not real blur at times except the historical events. I don’t know how accurately Rushdie describes them but there was never any doubt in my mind what actually happened and which bits were artistic licence. Yet, he blends the two together so well that I could almost accept the entire book as the truth. Almost.

My only criticism is that it is long. I know I should have guessed that with the 647 pages but there aren’t 647 pages worth of events or characters in this story so there are moments that feel like filler. These parts are well written and enjoyable enough I just couldn’t help thinking when is something going to happen. In these parts, where I found myself drifting off slightly, was usually hidden some small clue as to the events that were yet to come. Had I been paying attention maybe I would have solved a few mysteries a little quicker.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: people who don’t like historical fiction.

The Big Read

No. 19 – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières Read 25/11/14

Affiliate Link: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

All I knew about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was what I had learnt whilst studying AS Film Studies, the film had been a complete flop and everyone was really surprised because the book had been so incredibly popular. I never watched the film and knew nothing other than what was on the back cover when I started reading and so I shall share with you my first thoughts upon starting this book.

Where was Captain Corelli?

Seriously, I hate that. This story is called Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but it should be titled Pelagia’s Story or something similar because the story is by no means Corelli’s. The plot follows Pelagia and her father, a doctor, who live on the Greek island of Cephalonia. Pelagia wants to become a doctor like her father, and is engaged to a local fisherman Mandras but when the Second World War breaks out he leaves to fight the Italians. Halfway through the novel the eccentric Captain Corelli swans in with his most prized possession; his mandolin. It soon becomes obvious that Pelagia and Corelli will have to question their allegiances as they fall in love.

So sounds like a pretty standard romance? Nope. Make no mistakes about it this book is about war. It is a very strange mix because 2 opposing stories are being told. There is the light hearted almost foolish romance between Pelagia and Corelli and then there is this hard hitting, thought provoking, shocking even tale about the occupation of Cephalonia and Greece’s position in WW2. It makes for a strange read because it is a bit bottom heavy. All of a sudden out of nowhere comes this weight of emotion almost like a Shakespearian tragedy and it is hard to believe that a hundred pages before there were jokes about piles. Somehow this works. I think it is because it mirrors the way the residents of Cephalonia must have felt. I learnt a lot about Greece’s role in WW2 from this book and the real human story is incredibly moving and I am glad that it is being told through this book.

One of my favourite parts of this book is Carlo’s sub-plot. Carlo joins the Italian army so that he may nobly put his homosexuality to good use by falling in love with a fellow soldier and then dying to save him. It is described as though Carlo intend it to be an extended form a suicide but Carlo’s story of courage and bravery is so moving and the love he describes was much more interesting to read about than the forbidden love between Pelagia and Corelli.

I don’t normally enjoy romances but there was enough other stuff happening in this book that I really didn’t mind. This book would have been interesting enough without the romance if I am honest but then again I know that’s what appeals to most people. What I must mention about this book is the tone. It is wonderfully written and I can’t identify what it is. It feels rich and warm and conjures up these wonderful images of sun drench provincial scenes. It is also touching, heart warming and makes you glad to be alive.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: historical fiction lovers.