Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Unexpected Guest by AGATHA CHRISTIE


The Unexpected Guest 
Author: ( A Play by Agatha Christie)
Adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne
Screened Year: 1958 

To put readers on tenterhooks from the first page to the last needs a skill. It's not a prerequisite that every mysteries or thriller should possess that salient feature. Out of the 13 Agatha books, I have read ' The Unexpected Guest' had that quality.

See how the story opens.

It was a chilly November evening. The tree-lined country road in South Wales coast was shrouded in dense fog, the foghorn giving warning signals every now and then. Though there were a few houses, they were half a miles apart, giving the area a forlorn look.

Nearby a three storeyed mansion his car got stuck in a ditch. Sheer inability to take his vehicle out of it made him walk towards the bungalow.
 As his knocks were unanswered, he tried the lock and entered the mansion just to see a man dead in his wheel chair. He was shot and nearby stood a woman with a pistol in her hand.

Without any compulsion, she said she killed the man who was her husband. The suspense started building up when the unexpected guest promised to help her by manipulating the surroundings.

This reminded me of Linwood Barclay's ' No time to say Goodbye'. One day, Cynthia Bigge, a 14-year-old girl woke up to the dreadful fact that her father, mother and brother had vanished without a trace. Before going to bed, the other night she had seen them in flesh and blood and perfectly fine. She had to wait for 25 years to finally know what happened to them.

These kind of beginnings are capable enough to make the reader not to put down such books until they know what had really happened.

The Unexpected Guest is, in fact, a play by Agatha Christie later adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne, an acclaimed journalist, theatre and opera critic, poet and a novelist.

Coming back to our story, I was curious to know how would they manipulate the time of death. It was sure to be revealed during the autopsy. Starkwedder ( the unexpected guest) concocted a story to save Laura Warwick that he had heard a shot and a man came running from the mansion bumped into him dropping a gun and disappeared into the thick fog. It was certain that after the autopsy, the time of death would not match with the time when they said to have heard the shot. But as the story proceeded, I got my answer as it was happening in a night and a day.

Christie had scattered a lot of cues here and there to confuse the reader. Though at the outset, we tend to think that Laura might have committed the crime, we would soon come across many characters who could be possible suspects.

Unlike her other works, this book came across as one with a simple plot but loaded with suspense.

 Throwing an unexpected climax is not unusual as far as a Christie book is concerned. But what is always unusal is the sheer climax. 'The Unexpected Guest' is no exception.

Without revealing much, I would like to say that she had easily established one fact through this book that SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING.

Though she had high hopes for her Play Verdict like Mousetrap which gave about 2239 performances, the former failed to repeat the same success. Undeterred by the failure, she immediately came up with The Unexpected Guest which played for a week at the Bristol Hippodrame and then moved on to the Duchess Theatre in the West End of London where it gave about 604 performances in 18 months.

- by Shalet Jimmy 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Painted Veil by W SOMERSET MAUGHAM

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Publication date: 1925


It's not only our experiences that mould us but also the lesson we imbibe from them. Unfortunately, there are many who learns nothing from such experiences but not Kitty Fayne. 'The Painted Veil' tells the story of a woman's transformation from a worthless being to an awakened soul.

Kitty, the wife of Walter Fayne had her own reasons to justify her clandestine relationship with Charles Townsend. She never liked Walter, a bacteriologist working in Shangai where she meets Charles who unlike her husband was a popular government servant. She married Walter just because she was not getting any suitable proposal though she was garnering a lot of attention from most of the men around.

To her utter dismay, her sister who was not as popular as she was receives a decent proposal from a Duke and this forced Kitty to go for Walter. On the other hand, Walter was neck-deep in love with her and every hell broke loose when he found out her infidelity.

Though Kitty thought getting a divorce from him would not be a strenuous task, Walter's conditions for granting the divorce shattered her expectations.

He would divorce her if Charles divorced his wife Dorothy and promise to marry Kitty. If not, she would have to accompany him to cholera stricken Mei-tan- fu where people were dying like flies. She never doubted for a minute that Charles would disown her which was exactly what happened.
 Charles was more keen to hush up the issue by asking her to deny their relationship.

"Steady on, old girl," Charlie said. "A chap says a lot of things he doesn't mean with his trousers down. You go off with Walter; cholera isn't so bad as long as you don't get it. Must bolt!"
Kitty was quick to understand that Walter too expected the same reaction from Charles.

Perhaps, this episode sowed the first seed of awakening in Kitty.

If Charles did not agree to divorce his wife and Kitty still needed a divorce, it would come to her with a heavy price - charges of adultery. Hence, she was left with no other option but accompany Walter to cholera-stricken place.

Walter was fiercely in love with Kitty. He volunteered to go to the Cholera stricken place to punish himself for loving her. Though she realised her mistake and accepted it, Walter could not forgive her. At the same time, he also could not stop loving her. 

He says " I know you are worthless - still I loved."

He loved her knowing all her defects. Still, he expected a lot from her.

And with Kitty, though she developed a huge respect for Walter, she could not bring herself to love him. Human minds are strange and Maugham had delved deeply into the abyss of those human emotions.

Shallow and frivolous, Kitty is not a likeable character. But my heart went for her when she was telling Walter, tears streaming down her eyes that it was not her fault that she was brought up that way. Kitty was right when she asked Walter why did he assume her to be of a higher order when she was not.

The remark by Waddington that Charles wife knew about his flirtations and only second rate women could fall for him marred her self-esteem but brought her back to reality once again.

Walter's love for her was too fierce that he could not bear the news that she was pregnant with Charles' baby. Perhaps, this induced him to experiment the medicine for cholera on himself.

Even after Walter's death, she succumbed to Charles, but she was quick to shun the chapter of her life with Charles forever though she was pregnant with his baby.

Walter has little part to play, his presence literally swayed all through the book.

Sometimes, you have to pay a heavy price to learn the greatest lesson of your life. Kitty paid that price by losing Walter.

She is a perfect example of a ' Round Character'.

The work was serialised in Cosmopolitan starting from November 1924 and the book was eventually, published in 1925.
Loved the book.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sandhya Iyer - Interview with a Book Reviewer ( Mesmerized by Maugham)


It's a matter of great relief that even after technological invasions, the art of reading has not diminished one bit. One of the best examples are the numerous blogs which speak only about books. When some do it professionally, some for the pure love of reading. Sandhya Iyer's blog belongs to the latter category. Hence, she is in no hurry to come up with the review of latest releases. Instead, she just ruminates over books of different genres and comes up with insightful reviews. Perhaps this might be the reason page hits on her blog never come down even when she leaves it unattended for almost a year. No doubt, her blog can be used as a reference material.

Sandhya's blog also lured me to read her favourite author Somerset Maugham. I am currently reading his  ' The Painted Veil'

If you love books and want to start a serious conversation on books, Sandhya's blog The Summing Up  is the right  platform for it.

Let me introduce her to you.




1. Sandhya, tell us about yourself.

If you ask from the point of view of career, then much of my time has been spent in various newsrooms. I started as a campus reporter at Midday, where I connected with some of the best and brightest names in journalism. My love for language was constant, and I think, without realising it, I had a deep interest in the business of information dissemination as well. I went on to work with The Times of India, Sakaal Times and The New India Express (Kochi). With both journalism and publishing careers being on the decline, it is important to consider fields where editorial skills would still be valuable but in a new context. Content publishing for brands is a growing field, and I do see myself gravitating towards it.

2. After reading your blog, I presume that Somerset Maugham is one of your favourite authors. Even your blog is named after his last work ' The Summing Up.’ How did you come to being his avid admirer?

I remember a friend showing me a film called 'The Painted Veil.' I was deeply touched by that experience, and I ended up reading the book on which the film was based. Soon, that book became one of my most favourite possessions, because everything in that novel - right from its genteel Edwardian setting, the powerful plot line, the searing insight it provides into the human condition, and its ability to be so perceptive about human weakness - spoke to me in a manner few others ever have. I was mesmerised by Maugham, and soon enough, I was devouring every one of his books. I was lucky he has a tall body of work, and the four years that it took me to read up his entire oeuvre gave me immeasurable happiness.

3. Your book reviews are insightful. You are concentrating not only on fiction but all genres. What is your criteria for selecting a book for reading and book reviewing?

Yes, my book blog is an indulgence for me, in that I don't necessarily review latest releases. In fact, most of the books that I have written about are classics or contemporary classics. I read and review as I please. I was doing a lot of book reviews for the newspapers I worked for, so that allowed me to keep my blog going.  Usually, though, I like to read books that I feel are relevant to my life phase in some sense. When I moved to Toronto, I had a deep urge to know more about Canada, and hence I took up books that could give me an insight into the country's cultural and political character. Now, that I am not reviewing professionally, I choose books with particular care.

4. When did you start blogging?

As early as 2007. I was doing a lot of writing anyway as a journalist, and maintaining a blog seemed like a logical thing to do.

5. I had never thought of buying a Kindle until a month ago when I realised that it is one of the best possible ways to read my favourite books without spending too much money. What is your take on e-books?

I haven't used Kindle yet, but I am sure I will like it a lot. Books for me are a way to get away from technology. I do a lot of short-form reading on my laptop, Ipad, and smart phone, but I tend to turn to physical books for immersive leisure reading. One of the reasons is because I currently have access to one of the best libraries, where practically any book can be found. I also tend to mark a lot of words and sentences, and then take notes later. But yes, there is no doubt that physical books are not going to be with us forever. They are already becoming scarce and in 50 years, they could well become a curious object like a cassette or typewriter.

6. Are you a fast reader? Do you also review every book you read?

I am not a fast reader necessarily, but I am a committed reader. When I'm reading a book that gives me endless joy and thrill, I actually tend to slow down my reading, so I can savour every word and phrase. I don't actually review all the books I read, for various reasons. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the writing that I can't summon up the courage to review it. But mostly, when I don't review a book I read, it is because of laziness and a lack of time.

7. You have another blog called ' Matinee Mix' which concentrates on movies. Unlike your book blog, it is not updated frequently. The reviews are insightful just like your book blog. Do you plan to revive it in the near future?

I was a film reporter for many years. I was always passionate about movies and had a thorough knowledge of the beat. I'm proud to have done some memorable interviews. Again, like my book blog, I started Matinee Mix because I was writing a lot on films. I haven't been updating that blog at all because my film viewing has drastically reduced. Also, whenever I feel like saying something about a film, I tend to post a few lines on FB or on some other film blog.

8. Most readers nurture a dream of being a writer? Do you have such a dream or a plan?

Definitely! The more you read, the better equipped you are to tell a story. There are no immediate plans, but I do see myself writing a short story at the very least. I think we can agree that pursuing a writing career is not all that feasible. The publishing industry is on the decline, so writing a book is more a matter of self-expression and prestige rather than an avenue for making a lot of money.  There are exceptions of course, but by and large, even well-known writers have to take up second jobs such as teaching to make their writing careers viable.

9. Which is your favourite genre? What is your take on ' Surrealist fiction'?

In fiction, I enjoy period dramas, family stories, romances etc. I don't think I have read any surrealist fiction.

10. Do you think reading 'Classics' is a must for a book reader? If yes, suggest some of the must read books?

I think classics are classics for a reason, so it is always good to dip into it.  But remember the reputation of an author or book waxes and wanes through the passage of time. Stunningly, Somerset Maugham was undermined by critics for a long time, which meant his name never appeared among the greats. However, his books have lived on. There is something to be said about the timeless wisdom and perspicuity in Maugham's writing that his plays are regularly staged for audiences around the world, and his novels continue to be adapted for the big screen. Not all classics are timeless, but a good number of them are. My own favourites are Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Mark Twain. Among the books that have made a deep impression on me are Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Middlemarch.  I have read all of Maugham's books, but my personal favourite would be The Painted Veil, Up At The Villa, The Vagrant Mood, and his play, The Land of Promise. I am also a huge admirer of his short story collections.

11. Now Amish's Sita, the warrior has been released. Chetan Bhagat's book has been included in the syllabus of Delhi University. What is your take on Indian contemporary writers and Indian writing in English?

I always enjoy reading Indian writing in English. There is so much atmospherics that our writers are able to capture. But I don't know the wisdom of having Chetan Bhagat's book as part of the syllabus. He is an important phenomenon in terms of making book-reading accessible to the average or below average English reader, but I don't think I'd like to do a critical analysis of his plot or characters as part of a course. Some of the books that are prescribed in a course are the only ones many students will ever read in their entire lifetimes, so careful deliberation should be there in choice of books.

 12. Apart from reading and writing what are your other interests?

Cooking, nature, music, shopping for this and that...

13.Your 10 favourite books and 10 movies

Books
Funny Boy - Shyam Selvadurai
The Hungry Ghosts - Shyam Selvadurai
The Painted Veil - Somerset Maugham
The Vagrant Mood - Somerset Maugham
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Persuasion - Jane Austen
Middlemarch- George Eliot
Bookless in Baghdad - Shashi Tharoor
The Land of Promise - Somerset Maugham

Films
Lagaan
Piku
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander
Kandukondain Kandukondain (Tamil)
Varavelpu (Malayalam)
Masoom
The Second Best Marigold Hotel
The Best Marigold Hotel
Bangalore Days

14. How many books do you have in your library?
250 plus.

- by Shalet Jimmy

published here Mesmerized by Maugham

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Second Time Around - Mary Higgins Clark ( 2003)


I am a die- hard fan of Mary Higgins Clark. What I like about her is the gentle way of narrating a story. I think she is a writer who does not believe in gory descriptions to make her stories more thrilling. Still, there's mystery and suspense that can put you on tenterhooks right from the first page.

Her narrations lack artificiality. Perhaps, it might be because she finds clues for her story from the newspapers - in other words, incidents that happen in the normal lives of people and the reader can relate to the story, easily.


Nicholas Spencer, the head of Gen - Stone, a company which is developing medicine against cancer disappears without a trace. The wreckage of his plane is found but not his body, raising many eyebrows. What if he has staged this accident? Maybe because he was aware that the vaccine is not going to work.  Lots of people whose dear ones are being victims of the deadliest disease have invested their whole money in the Gen- Stone stocks - Ned and Marty being two among them. After the news of his death starts doing rounds, Nick's bungalow has been set ablaze by someone. Lynn, Nick's wife had a close shave.

Carly Decarlo who writes financial advice columns is now a journalist in the Wall Street Weekly and her first assignment is to do a cover story on Nick. Carley has met Nick personally and for her, he has come across as a genuine person. She too invested her money in his company. Apart from it, Lynn
  is Carley's stepsister. After her father's death, Carley's mother got married to Lynn's father. As the story progresses, Carley feels that Nick is murdered. Her doubt is intensified when Dr Boedrick who bought Nick's house where his father used to do experiments meets with an accident just after he passes on to her the information that he has handed over the record of experiments to a red - headed guy.

I have read many thrillers. But I could not figure out who was behind the murder though there were many explicit clues. That's the beauty of her craft and maybe because of this I might have immersed myself in the story rather than interrupting my reading thinking who is the culprit. This book might not be her best but it's worth reading.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Belated Happy Birthday - Anita Desai

" Reality is merely one-tenth visible section of the iceberg that one sees above the surface of the ocean- art remaining nine-tenth of it that lies below the surface. That is why it is more near Truth that Reality itself. Art does not merely reflect Reflect - it enlarges it"
ANITA DESAI 





Anita Desai, the acclaimed writer from India was born on June 24, 1937. This is to wish her belated Happy birthday.

My personal favourite is Fire on the Mountain. But I am sure as I keep on her reading her books, the list would increase too.


“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
― Anita Desai

“Isn't it strange how life won't flow, like a river, but moves in jumps, as if it were held back by locks that are opened now and then to let it jump forwards in a kind of flood?”
― Anita Desai

Someone who wants to write should make an effort to write a little something every day. Writing in this sense is the same as athletes who practice a sport every day to keep their skills honed.
- Anita Desai


I aim to tell the truth about any subject, not a romance or fantasy, not avoid the truth.
- Anita Desai


My style of writing is to allow the story to unfold on its own. I try not to structure my work too rigidly.
-  Anita Desai

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nobody Killed Her by SABYN JAVERI

Book : Nobody killed her
Author : Sabyn Jhaveri
Publication year : 2017

I chose this book to meet the ' kickass heroine 'and whom I found was an unapologetic heroine with little hypocrisy. Now, that stirred my interest. Prior to it, I had hardly any experience with South Asian thrillers though I was a huge sucker for mysteries and suspense fictions.

Javeri's book prompted me to turn my attention to South Asia and I ended up reading Kalpana Swaminathan and Ashwin Sanghi. Needless to say, it was a good experience. Reviewing these books gave me immense pleasure for there were many serious issues to ponder upon. Javeri's debut novel was no different.

When the story opens, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Rani Shah was assassinated and her confidante Nazneen Khan ( Nazo )was held accountable for the murder. For, she was the one who was with Rani during her last hours.

 “ Who killed her?”


The story which was narrated in the course of courtroom proceedings was unputdownable. A pacy thriller with a maze of elements – treachery, gender equality, corruption, politics and what not.

Javeri had put the narrative in the unreliable hands of Nazo and this made the maze more thrilling.

What I liked about the book was that Javeri had left no stone unturned to depict the real life situations and it shunned hypocrisy to the core. The author was right when she said she was tired of suitable South Asian heroines. Even many of us were tired of that. She had torn apart those false faces which hardly existed and it's a big relief.


Jhaveri's character would make us think twice before we put every woman under one category when it's pertaining to topics like women empowerment, gender equality and feminism. The reasons for misinterpreting these words were mainly because we often tend to forget that there are different kinds of women with different circumstances with Nazo and Rani being the perfect examples.

There are a good number of women who have manipulative skills to get what they want. I liked the way Javeri left her characters ( Rani & Nazo) without judging them. They are at times strong, sometimes vulnerable and they get disillusioned too.

When Rani was born into an affluent family of politicians and everything had been offered to her on a platter, Nazo's family was murdered in front of her eyes by the General who was ruling Pakistan. Strangely, even such a strong background could not help Rani to wriggle through the maze of politics. But Nazo once determined had pushed the envelope and told us the story of survival. 


She was a refugee and Rani was Nazo's icon, God, lover and everything. She offered her at Rani's feet thinking that only she could save the country from the treacherous role of the General. But she was wrong. The moment Rani got the power her ideals quickly started changing. Mysogyny was prevalent. But with her hard-earned power did Rani do anything to change that? She comfortable placed herself where her society wanted her to be in.

The book created headlines even before it was released owing to Rani Shah's sharp semblance to the late Benazir Bhutto. It could not be denied but what amazed me was that even with a similar backdrop as of Mrs Bhutto, Rani Shah, all through the book hardly showed any traces of the late former premier. Now, that is something to be appreciated.


Once you finish reading the story, you will understand the quote mentioned by Sabyn Javeri at the outset of the book.

“I think you can love a person too much.You put someone up on a pedestal, and all of a sudden, from that perspective, you notice what's wrong - a hair out of place, a run in a stocking, a broken bone. You spend all your time and energy making it right, and all the while, you are falling apart yourself. You don't even realize what you look like, how far you've deteriorated, because you only have eyes for someone else.”

― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

Going to read her short story.

by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, June 18, 2017

GREENLIGHT by Kalpana Swaminathan

It began when a six-year-old girl from Kandewadi, a small slum near Andheri in Mumbai goes missing. Pinky was the first to go, then Jamila followed by Mary, Sindhu and Tara.

Panic grips the slum when these children are returned as mutilated and raped corpses. Lalli takes charge of the investigation with police officers Savio and Shukla and her niece Sita who is also her accomplice. Written from Sita's point of view, Kalpana Swaminathan's latest book slowly opens to an unimaginable cruel world of crime and put forth several questions to ponder upon.

The book has dealt with issues like brutal child abuse, politics that can sell and buy anything, the helplessness of the officials who are not corrupt, pseudo feminism, etc. Though crime fiction written especially by Indian authors highlight several issues and makes the reader ask pertinent questions, there’s often a tendency to dismiss fiction noir as mere 'pulp fiction'. It is unfortunate.


If you put down a list of serious crime novels, Kalpana Swaminathan's ' Greenlight' will be the first in the category. It is her sixth book in the Lalli series.

Let's see who Lalli is? She is a retired police detective who has ace shooting skills. She is in her sixties and is ruling the roost in a world dominated by men. If there is a murder, Lalli is the last resort even for the police.

The book is unputdownable and a great relief that Indian writers can create novels in this genre that can compete with the west.

To speak further on the book, it throws light on the bizarre mindset of the people. On one side when the rich believes in committing horrendous crimes just for the sake having a thrill and also inflicting cruelties on children from slum purely, because they do not consider them worthy of living in this world, there are slum dwellers, on the other side,  who refuse to show any empathy to Tara's mother who is a sex worker even after Tara is abducted and killed. They even pray to take the life of Tara in exchange for their daughters' lives just because her mother is a sex- worker and they think she deserves it.

What I also like about the book is the innuendoes on pseudo- feminism. In a meeting called by Seema, the journalist who is following the Kandewadi story, women easily forget the atrocities and rape and easily shift their attention to take it as a platform to indulge in their own selfish interests – some writes articles, poem, etc. One has killed her feotus and has written a poem on it justifying her actions that she aborted it to save the fetus from the world. She has taken the decision after reading the Kandewadi incidents.

Sita who could not bear this hypocrisy comes out of the meeting and thinks to herself that “ I had lacked the courage I might have had five years ago to tell those women what a misogynystic bunch of voyeurs, they were, what pathetic human beings they were, if their only response to the pain of others was to trot out sorry tales of their own. I wondered what they would have said, or done, if they had seen Tara in her empty hut.

Calling ' Lalli', a ' Desi Miss Marple' will not do any justification to the round character Kalpana Swaminathan has created. Even the author has clarified once that Lalli is not like Miss Marple. There are no similarities barring the fact that they love sleuthing. Like Miss Marple of Agatha Christie, Lalli has her own identity.

One thing that could have been avoided is the gory description of the brutalities committed to the children. It's horrendous. This reminds me of books written by a renowned Crime writer from the West, Tess Gerritsen. Perhaps it might be their background as medical doctors which enable them to write precise description though a bit gross.

When the story ends Swaminathan also puts across a question to ponder “ The Cry, How can I bear that someone should use my body like this? Is usually read as a woman's outrage. But isn't it equally a man's? It is men who should protest against rape, and not women.”

- Shalet Jimmy