We meet John who enlisted in the Army because he rebelled at school and then dropped out due to conflicts with his gentle and unassuming father who was unable to converse about anything except his one passion: coin collecting. He drifts on with life until he meets and falls in love with Savannah at the beach one day. Their initial spark for each other quickly blooms into love. Savannah, a special education student, alerts John up to the possibility his father may have a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome which enables him to mend bridges with his Dad (who in my opinion is the true hero of this book). But the time John has with Savannah is short lived as he is in the military and has to finish his tour of duty. This book by Nicholas Sparks points out how the lives of soldiers are so different from those of civilians and how difficult it is for love to progress normally in those circumstances.
They exchange letters that speak from the heart during his service and the time for John to reunite with his girl draws closer. They have one brief meeting before he goes on leave again but he feels the nature of their relationship has changed and then Savannah confesses she had a difficult time of it after his departure. But then tragedy strikes in the form of September 11. He feels compelled to re-enlist to display his patriotism but this time he receives a blow to the heart from the girl of his dreams – she has fallen in love with someone else during their long separation. The letter he receives makes him reel with shock and realises the life he had planned has changed course because even if Savannah has moved on, he’s still in love with her. After he returns home, he decides to visit her after making some inquiries and realises that he made a mistake when it turns out her husband is an old friend and a patient in the local hospital. Although he is permitted to have a future with her from her ill husband (which I thought was patronising even if he was sick), John decides to show his love in a more courageous manner by sacrificing it.
This is why this book often gets described as a tearjerker. I did cry once when I was reading but John and Savannah felt pretty secondary to me. Their love story was bittersweet and if I’m to be honest, I thought Savannah exhibited a lot of selfishness. So I find it a waste that John is left to pine over the girl who betrayed him after spending the money obtained by selling his father’s amassed coins on her future instead of looking after his own. I think that was not the author’s intention but that’s my interpretation. The scene during which I cried was that of John’s father’s funeral because so few people knew his true worth.
Note I know there is a film on it but I have not seen it so you have to rely on the following links for thoughts on that:
Wives and Daughters (based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel of that name) was a BBC drama based on 1930s life in an English provincial town that pleasantly surprised me. If you follow this blog, you know how much I love period drama miniseries. I thought the title was dull so I imagined this story would be equally bland. How wrong I was to make such a decision!
It opens with young Molly Gibson looking for a place to rest at a garden party as her father has gone on an errand; he’s the local doctor. She is taken into the big house of Lady Cumnor and her employed governess, Miss Clare (Francesca Annis) is charged with Molly’s care. The governess makes a big fuss of how kind she is but it’s far from the truth. Molly asks her to alert her father as to her whereabouts but this slips from flighty Miss Clare’s mind and the poor child wakes alone to a house full of complete strangers. Fortunately for Molly, Lady Cumnor arranges for Dr. Gibson (Bill Paterson), a widower, to come and pick her up and she is relieved after her father’s arrival. Molly (Justine Waddell) grows up into a young beauty and her father on realising she is arousing the attention of his apprentice chemist intercepts a note for her and hastily sends her away to stay with Squire Hamley and his sick wife, landed gentry whose circumstances have dwindled. They dote on their eldest son Osbourne, a poet (yes, it’s Mr. Collins from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice), and pay little attention to second son Roger, a man of science.
Molly is impressed when she hears Cambridge student Osbourne (Tom Hollander) – more clever, more fashionable and reputedly more handsome than his brother – being lauded by his parents for his poetry so she has a minor spat with Roger (Anthony Howell) when he bears bad news regarding his brother’s lack of accomplishment. This situation amicably resolves itself later on when Roger consoles Molly after she’s upset at news about her father’s second marriage about which she received no prior warning. Meanwhile Roger does very well in his chosen field. But Molly is aware that as the daughter of a professional man, she cannot expect a union with either of the Hamleys. It turns out that Osbourne had a secret which caused the neglect of his studies – the secret is confided only to Molly and Roger. Meanwhile Mr. Gibson marries mainly to provide a mother for Molly rather than because he’s inclined to marry so in ignorance he selects the unsuitable Mrs. Kirkpatrick , the former Miss Clare, to be his wife. When he begins to live with her, his high estimation of her drops considerably due to her behaviour until he regards her as no more than an annoyance he had brought upon himself. Molly and her stepmother naturally do not get along due to their contrasting natures which are at odds but she does her best to be a dutiful daughter for her father’s sake. If there were illustrations in the dictionary, Molly would be the pictorial entry under the definition of “good”.
Funnily enough, the naive and sweet Molly gets along with her rebellious and conniving stepsister Cynthia (Keeley Hawes), who was educated in France. It becomes clear her stepmother and stepsister have some previous secret involvement with a man of ill repute, land agent Mr. Preston (Iain Glen). Meanwhile heartbroken at the failure of her beloved eldest son, Mrs. Hamley (Penelope Wilton) passes away. It came to my notice that Michael Gambon who plays the Squire is very touching in his performance of farewell scenes. Her death only widens the divide between him and his eldest son. In the middle of these happenings, Molly’s stepmother decides to play matchmaker for Cynthia with Osbourne, having no idea her manuevers and efforts are futile. This does not affect Molly since she has fallen for the charms of Roger. Unfortunately Cynthia has the upper hand in the good looks department and he falls for the wrong girl. After overhearing a confidential discussion the state of Osbourne’s wavering health, the stepmother plots a union between Cynthia and Roger before he leaves for Africa. Molly hears her stepsister who does not even love Roger has accepted his proposal, in secret, and becomes upset. Also she finally discovers the secret Mr. Preston holds over Cynthia and intervenes on her behalf which almost negatively affects her reputation while her stepsister ignores her fiance’s letters – which Molly peruses with fervour – and enjoys society company in London instead. The interference of well-meaning Lady Harriet (Rosamund Pike), who takes Molly under her wing as a protegé, makes amends to the circulating town gossip. When Cynthia returns, she breaks the engagement to Roger deciding she would like to be the wife of a professional gentleman from London, Mr. Henderson despite being rebuked for her hasty decisions.
Convinced the time to meet his maker is drawing near, Osbourne makes an additional confession to Molly. Poor girl has to keep secrets for a lot of people. When tragedy strikes, Molly tells what she knows to the Squire who sees this as a new chance to make reparation for his old mistake after some well-meaning advice from Roger. Meanwhile Roger settles into the local, scientific community and finds that he never realised that the brotherly affection he thought he felt for Molly was an entirely different emotion. This comes to the forefront when he sees Molly dancing with Lady Harriet’s cousin. Feeling unworthy of having professed his love to Cynthia before, he admits his intentions to Dr. Gibson who gives him the go ahead but he is prevented from contacting her due to a scarlet fever scare.
This is where the story deviates from the book as the original had no ending. Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly before she completed it so the ending was written by Frederick Greenwood. It is said that she told a friend that she had intended Roger to return and present Molly with a dried flower, a gift to him before his departure, as proof of his enduring love (Sidenote: Thanks, Wikipedia) to contrast with Cynthia’s fickle love. The BBC adaptation uses an alternative ending because Molly and Roger are able to meet once more, despite being unable to touch each other, before he departs again to Africa.
It actually has been a long while since I’ve read a Bryce Courtenay because work and volunteering has kept me on my toes. But on a recent jaunt to the library, I found a sequel to The Persimmon Tree. It’s called Fishing for Stars.
So shipping magnate Nick Duncan finds his life revolving around two women: Anna Til, the exotic but damaged Eurasian obsessed with profit and Marg Hamilton, ex-Navy wife and fanatical protector of nature’s treasures. These characteristics give the two women who are loath to let Nick Duncan belong solely to the other have two vindictive names to call each other: Princess Plunder and Green Bitch. The settings are interesting as it involves the Yakuza in Japan, the military environment of Indonesia, the Pacific Islands and parts of Australia. But this is a story narrated by flashback.
Nick is grieving after losing Anna to breast cancer and is suffering from bad dreams harking back to WWII. Marg decides this is possibly the onset of PTSD and finds him an appropriate specialist. On the advice of his psychologist, Nick decides to put his story on paper; the tale of how he has lived since being a war hero. He writes about the lifelong contest of the two women and how he tried to keep each to their separate worlds until he was forced to take action.
The struggle to save Lake Pedder annoyed me with the weight given to all the politics involved but nevertheless the information was so educational that it was easy to forgive this aspect. The take on Anna Til being a BDSM dominatrix with vaginismus who had a smack habit she couldn’t kick but was cool as a cucumber in making multi-million dollar business deals was a bit much. The habit did not really count as a flaw if it didn’t impact on her ability to be a rational and calculating negotiator. Marg was described in a better and believable way but I think this book focused more on what she did than her as a character.
Still, if you have read The Persimmon Tree, reading the aftermath in Fishing for Stars is not a bad experience even if the history is rehashed for the benefit of those with poor memories. You will always be sure to learn something entirely new in the case of this writer.
Well, I think it’s time to enjoy some foreign films again even if the English BBC adaptations of detective novels are pretty good. This time perhaps I might give you some insight into the tragicomedy romantic epics of Bollywood. One thing: I hate the song and dance numbers and fast forward the sequence in mute but apparently within the cinematic theatres of India, people get up and dance and sing along with the flick. Now I know, I will never go to watch a Hindi film in India.
Kuch Kuch Kota Hai
The first film I saw in Hindi, which gave me an introduction to the foreign world of Bollywood, was called Kuch Kuch Kota Hai. Roughly translated, it means Something Happens and conveys nothing about it.
The story begins on the 8th birthday of Anjali, the daughter of a widower called Rahul (Sharukh Khan). Her mother Tina (Rani Mukherjee) has left her eight letters with the dying wish that she read a letter each birthday. The eighth letter Anjali receives on her 8th birthday is the last and the most important. It contains a very special request that she reunites her father with an important friend (Kajol) who meant a lot to him. Tina had been responsible for the breakdown of that friendship and wants to mend bridges even after death. This drives the crux of the story but the question is will the gap of 8 years be too late to reunite Anjali’s father with his long lost and much loved friend?
Trust me, you’ll be varying between laughter and tears with this one. But it’s a lovely film with a sweet film. If you enjoyed P.S. I Love You or Dear Frankie, this is your kind of movie with an Indian flavor.
The next Hindi film, which made an impact on me, that I saw was Veer-Zaara.
It is a love story about a star-crossed romance akin to Romeo and Juliet but minus the suicide. Set against the backdrop of a conflict between India and Pakistan, with main actor Veer being an Indian Air Force Squadron Leader and lead actress Zaara being a Pakistani girl from a well-known political family, odds are stacked against their being together. Veer meets Zaara when she makes a pilgrimage to the Ganges to fulfill the last request of her grandmother. When she is leaving, her bus meets with an accident and Veer rescues her and offers her a place to stay and has her meet the people of his village. After she leaves, Veer realizes he is in love and goes after her but his offer of marriage is dissuaded by Zaara’s mother, Mariyam. It would be political suicide for their family if their Pakistani daughter married an Indian. Besides Zaara has to keep her political alliances intact by marrying Rezaa since he will help aid the career of Zaara’s father even if she herself has realised that Veer is whom she loves.
This love held by Zaara makes Rezaa have feelings of dishonor and shame so he has Veer imprisoned on the charges that he is an Indian spy. After he is taken to cell 786, he does not speak for 22 years. A new female lawyer, Saamiya Siddiqui, enters the scene to bring prisoner 786 to justice but he imposes some difficult conditions on her because he refuses to speak ill or testify against Zaara’s family. In addition, her ex-boss who had never lost a case took on the defense. To set Veer free, she travels back to Veer’s village where she finds an unlikely witness.
This is a beautiful film that will haunt you with all the injustice dealt with by Veer and creates questions about how much power higher authorities have. This is a film about racial politics getting in the way of love and succeeding up to a point. If you liked films like The Joy Luck Club and West Side Story, this one’s another you want to watch.
Another film in a similar vein is Mohabbatein in which a strict school principal of a boarding school tries to forbid students from expressing their love because of a tragic personal incident.
Sam at IMDB has written an excellent review of the film so I’ll display his/her work below in a condensed form.
The setting of Mohabbatein is the Gurukul School, an elite school housed in a cold, uninviting, castle-like edifice. Narayan Shankar (Amitabh Bachchan) is the stern, disciplinarian and somewhat tyrannical headmaster of Gurukul who rules the school with an iron fist.
The story begins on a dark and quiet night at the local train stations where three young men, prospective students at the school, meet on the platform and set out on a journey that brings them closer together than they ever could have imagined. Vicky (Uday Chopra) is an athletic, energetic playboy type, seemingly unshaken by the harsh reality of the school. Sameer (Jugal Hansraj) is the timid and shy one with boyish charm and innocent looks. And Karan (Jimmy Shergill) completes the trio as the more mature, intense member of the pack.
The three lads are struck by cupid’s arrow when they meet the three heroines; Vicky loses his heart to a rich and spoiled girl named Ishika (Shamita Shetty) while Sameer is reunited with his childhood buddy, the bubbly Sanjana (Kim Sharma) and Karan falls hard for the bashful widow, Kiran (Preeti Jhangiani).
A glimmer of hope comes their way when a maverick music teacher, Raj Aryan (Shah Rukh Khan) sweeps into the picture and helps nurture their young love.
To read the full review, click here.
This is a story about one so-called independent woman Bathsheba Everdene (who seems incredibly dependent if you think about it), her three male admirers and her propensity for poor judgement. When we first meet her, she is a beautiful but high-spirited young woman with no fortune to her name. To top it all, she saves the life of Gabriel Oak when he falls asleep in his hut and almost dies of smoke inhalation. When Gabriel asks her to reveal her name, she challenges him to find it out for himself. Upon learning her name, he visits her aunt to ask if he can court Bathsheba but is informed she has many lovers. This woman then runs after him to declare her aunt lied about her. Suddenly the conversation takes a turn to discuss a marital union between them because Gabriel assumes she must be interested but she assures him that she does not love him. He, the silly fool, spends the rest of his life devoted to her while she indulges in all manner of follies.
Gabriel Oak happens to be a poor shepherd who loses his farm after an accident befalls all of his sheep due because of a rookie dog that misdirects them to fall off a cliff. Once this happens, he seeks new employment in the town of Weatherbury. It is not going too well for him until one day he helps fend off fire from a farmhouse. It turns out Bathsheba is the mistress as she inherited it from a deceased uncle. She offers him work as a shepherd.
Meanwhile she sends off a Valentine with the words Marry Me to neighbor Farmer Boldwood as a joke. The duped farmer takes this jest seriously and he becomes a relentless and persistent suitor much to her annoyance. He is also refused the offer of marriage he makes to Bathsheba because she does not love him. But he does get her to say she will reconsider her refusal.
On that night, she meets the third and most despicable of her three admirers. He is a handsome soldier known as Sergeant Troy. What Bathsheba does not know is that he impregnated a local servant girl called Fanny Robinson who had gone missing. She embraces his suggestion of marriage.
When Fanny returns, Troy arranges a time to meet her; he loves Fanny. Bathsheba comes to realise she has made terrible decisions. Fanny, overworked and exhausted, dies in childbirth on her way to meet Troy. Embarrassed and ashamed by his actions, Troy fakes a suicide and joins a performing circus.
Meanwhile Farmer Boldwood makes the best of his adversary’s ‘death’ by resuming his courtship. His repeated persistence secures him a result when he gets Bathsheba to promise she will marry him in six years if her missing husband does not return. Unfortunately, Troy chooses that night to reappear after hearing she is prospering. Enraged by his intrusion, poor Boldwood has his revenge by shooting Troy. This leads to a jail sentence for the misused farmer for whom you can’t help but feel sorry.
Finally there is an opportunity for hard-working and faithful Gabriel who has become a flourishing bailiff to reunite with Bathsheba and his devotion to her is rewarded when she finally says yes.
For a male, Thomas Hardy, the author of this work is very intuitive about how the female mind works. It’s a shame he did not dabble in relationship counselling. I believe he would have done very well. Even if Gabriel finds happiness with this undeserving trollop of a woman, it is a bit of a sting she rejected him when he lacked any money and accepted him when he had it.
It starts out with the protagonist Ruby getting fired from her job as an investment banker in London. Used to being financially well off, she is devastated when her Louboutins – towering high-heeled pumps with signature red soles – arrive on that very day and she is forced to return them. Snubbed by the email sent by the HR staff, she creates a cutting reply and without thinking of the consequences hits send. By the next day her email has gone viral even to the extent of The Financial Times. To drown her sorrows, she indulges in a case of Australian Pinot Noir. On waking up the next day, she realises in a drunken stupor she has booked a flight to Melbourne departing on that night.
With the assistance of her efficient sister, Fran, Ruby is sent to stay with her lesbian aunt in the Yarra Valley. Although she gets off on the wrong foot with Debs, her aunt’s partner who happens to be a lawyer with a good sense of style, they ultimately resolve their differences. Despite not having a working visa, Ruby is offered a job as a financial policy advisor to the Federal Leader of the Opposition by the Chief of Staff during an impromptu visit to a political fundraiser. So upon accepting despite having no background on party views and economic policies, she finds herself enmeshed in the election campaign trail and dubbed Roo.
Thrown headfirst into the field of Australian politics, she finds herself enjoying the hectic pace despite suffering wardrobe malfunctions, numerous media related faux pas and relationship mishaps with men of dubious character. Despite her rookie status, Ruby makes suggestions which work well when the Treasurer overthrows the current PM and calls an early election. This is eerie and reminiscent of the K -Rudd situation but the strangest thing is that this book was written prior to that. It gives meaning to life imitating art certainly!
While Campaign Ruby is humorous and uses brand names to a suffocating extent, it is still enjoyable. Just watch out for the peppering of cliches. But as political chick lit spin, it’s a great read.
When I went to watch The Adjustment Bureau last night, my preconception of the film as the general suspense thriller flick was blown away. Based loosely on the Philip K. Dick short story titled Adjustment Team, the film starring Matt Damon as Dave Norris, a popular politician running for the US Senate and Emily Blunt as Elise the dancer he meets by chance after an oversight by one of the bureau’s case workers is a refreshing work with the year of the sequel phenomenon approaching.
The work of the adjustment bureau is to ensure life goes according to a plan which is traceable in a book written by the head of the organisation named the “Chairman”. It works out according to the plan, Dave and Elise were not meant to meet the way they did. So the case workers who ensure people follow their fates without diverging from their true paths do their best to put obstacles in the way of Dave. But a quick kiss in the men’s stall after Elise crashed a wedding and he was practising his concession speech connects them and manages to make their paths intertwine again because of their recurring chemistry for each other.
Thompson (John Slattery) who is built as the villain of the piece who is determined to thwart their relationship exposes the bureau to Dave and warns him that if he breathes a word of this that his will to think would cease. Interestingly, this movie raises a lot of questions about how much we have an affect on our individual fates and how much of it could be guided for us by a higher power giving it some repressed theological ground. When Dave is informed by Thompson, his chase of Elise would not only have a negative impact on his ambition but also on her dream of being a famous dancer, he abandons her feeling that he is making a sacrifice for her sake.
Later, he spots an article saying that she is to be married to her ex-boyfriend and feels in his gut something is wrong. Harry, a case worker more sympathetic to his cause than the others, provides him the use of his hat which allows him to open doors through New York without the control of his choices being affected. He finally reunites with Elise and when she is tested for her conviction in him, despite initial hesitation her trust in him is repaid with both of them allowed to use their free will.
While the film had an interesting storyline and it was directed well by George Nolfi who succeeds fairly well with his intention of creating it to raise questions but since it leaves a lot open to interpretation and deconstruction by the viewers themselves, it could either be a hit or miss depending on individual personalities and their takes on fate.
It has been a while since I’ve submitted a book review. So I have now decided it is finally time to address this inadequacy given my future aspirations of becoming an editor. The last book I read which is to be reviewed is titled The String of Pearls, the Wordsworth Classics edition. You might be familiar with it in the form of a musical produced by Tim Burton. I’m of course talking about Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
The story originally appeared as a penny dreadful in The People’s Periodical and Family Library which was edited by Edward Lloyd as a series and was given the epithet The String of Pearls: A Romance. Although published as long ago as 1846, the tale still feels macabre despite the present standards of desensitisation to acts of violence because it touches on a topic that still has not eluded its taboo status. It is commonly thought the tale was co-written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest.
Given electricity was yet to be invented and readers perused their reading material under flickering oil lamps, horror tales rose in popularity as a form of entertainment. The gory and violent depictions of ill-met fates in these stories led them to being called curious names like bloods and shilling shockers. Since these stories were produced en masse for a penny per copy, publishers picked up ideas from sources such as popular fiction, legends and news accounts of petty crime aiming to “ make the hackles rise, the flesh creep, and the blood curdle ” says Michael Anglo, the author of Penny Dreadfuls and Other Victorian Horrors; he adds it was difficult in that time to be sufficiently dread inspiring because hangings were commonplace.
The String of Pearls in which Sweeney Todd, “the demon barber of Fleet Street”, makes his literary debut is a tale that is as humorous as it is chilling because of the style of writing chosen. We are first introduced to this barber of shady appearance who runs his own barber and shaver shop. His misabused apprentice boy, Tobias, who is always sent away on impromptu errands when wealthy customers enter the shop notices they keep leaving some apparel behind. Tied into this story is a little romance between the pretty daughter of a spectacle maker and an errant adventurer. Connected to this rigmarole is Mrs Lovett’s pie shop selling meat pies so aromatic in fragrance and delicious in taste that people cannot help their mouths watering in expectation.
These random little details are connected in the most peculiar way, one will discover when they read the book. It is fairly easy to put two and two together about the meat pies but the mystery about Mark Ingestrie, the owner of the string of pearls, makes it worth reading.
If you would like to read the original penny dreadful, you can enjoy it here at the Victorian Dictionary compiled by Lee Jackson.
I have always loved the sagas of love and tragedy by Power of One author, Bryce Courtenay. The Persimmon Tree set against the backdrop of Java under Dutch colonial rule had me awake through the wee hours of the night, turning pages to see if the young lovers who parted in war ever reunited since in his stories, heroes do not always survive.
The sailing butterfly collector and the kinbaku – mastered heroin addict make for an interesting pair. But the details of military operation, the knowledge of Javanese culture portrayed in the book and the way coincidences are so craftily engineered is what usually leaves me in tears.
Not to mention it makes for interesting and educational reading – one almost feels a part of a historical event when reading his books. Most people hate books that are incredibly detailed but the longer they are, the more I like it. The Persimmon Tree is one of those.