Thursday, August 25, 2011
by Thomas Harris
* * * * */5
Wonder and Awe for the Great Red Dragon
This is an amazingly well written book. The plot is tight, good paced narration, spectacular characters and brilliant descriptions.
The book is advertised as 'the novel that created Hannibal Lecter' but the book is neither about Lecter nor the special agent Will Graham. It is about the Red Dragon. The serial killer is the real protagonist for me. The novel starts off with the FBI wanting Will back for a new case. Will had left the bureau after apprehending Dr Lecter. FBI wants him back and soon the manhunt for the new psycho killer starts.
We are taken through Will's unique procedures as he recreates the crime scene in his mind, his imagination and projection helping him get inside the killer's perspective. He is creating the killer's profile and also profiles of likely victims. As the next full moon approaches, the cops are working out all possible leads to stop the Red Dragon.
Other characters in the novel are also well filled out. FBI man Crawford, the tabloid irritant Lounds, Will's wife, Dollarhyde's love interest and many others who are an intrinsic part of this unique story - not to mention Dr Lecter and his asylum's incharge.
The first meeting with Lecter is memorable. The descriptions of the crime scenes are close and horrific. You could picture yourself standing there with Will Graham. The family background and childhood atrocities on Francis Dollarhyde are cruel and will touch any reader's heart. The pain and humiliation and cruelty that finally created the Red Dragon almost makes you understand that the survival through such trauma could only happen by the creation of a monster.
The story is also about strong men. Men who have survived great odds - Will, his stepson, Dollarhyde, all strong characters who stay in the fight against the problems and dilemmas they face.
There are some memorable moments in the novel - some of it will shock you and others will keep your eyes burning into the pages - such as the death of the tabloid reporter, Reba the blind girl feeling the unconsciouss tiger in the zoo, the moment Dollarhyde accepts that he is completely alone in this world, etc are moments that will haunt you and amaze you.
You would never guess what's coming and it is a shocking climax in the last few chapters.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Book Review: James Bond series by Ian Fleming
See previous books' reviews
by Ian Fleming
* * * * */5
007 in UK
The first thought that comes to you as you begin reading this novel is that its nothing like the movie of the same name. The movie was a success with even a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars. The novel doesn't disappoint either. It goes off with a slow start with a commonplace investigation of cheating at cards at M's favourite club known as Blades. Then on the intrgue and unanswered questions pile up and before long you are submerged in a thrilling game of deception and discovery.
Interestingly, in this novel, James Bond doesn't leave United Kingdom, the entire adventure unfolding on homeground. 007 starts off dreading Monday office blues but by the end of the week he will be striving for his life and put all his skill and determination in saving England from a disaster of unimaginable proportions. There are guns, fast cars, gambling and a lovely lady to keep you hooked till the very end. The villain is unique, a national hero who is actually working against the nation that celebrates him. After the initial chapters depicting Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you are caught into a climbing rocket of thrills and suspense. Its a "nail-biting" (haha, read the book and you will know) dash to save England and Bond will persevere through incredible hardships and danger (including gigantic rolls of newsprint) to save the day (or his weekend, eh?). A week in the life of 007 but only a few days for you as an addicted reader of this small novel.
A great follow-up to the second novel and surprising twists of fate.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
by Stephen King
* * * * */ 5
The King: Wisdom and a one-on-one session
This is an awesomely magnificent book. Whatever opinions you may have regarding his fiction novels, suspend them all and read this as if peeping into the life of a professional writer. Stephen King is an all-time bestselling novelist and some beautiful movies have been made from his books too (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, come to mind immediately). I can understand that genre fiction is looked down upon by some elitists and reading horror stories may not be everyone's fare. But this book has got nothing to do with any of that. This book proves that Stephen King is an immensely great, accomplished and successful storyteller.
There are good forewords to this book, 3 of them actually, where King (I will call him King because he is one) explains how he came to write this book. Nothing to do with his own success in the craft but because he needs to clarify the art and craft of storytelling.
The book is not an autobiography. It is full of entertaining anecdotes that lead up to how he became who he is. I love anecdotal books (such as Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman! By Richard Feynman and At Ease stories I tell to friends by Dwight D Eisenhower) and this one is a treasure. Starting from his earliest memories as a toddler to mischief with his partner - elder brother, to high school days, college and marriage, we are taken on a fantastic voyage as King discovers the world around him and explores the talent within him. It is written in casual, conversational style, with great style! You can't help but picture him in the situations he mentions. It is not just entertaining but a lesson in living with his wise conclusions and mentions of turning points that led him to a fulfilling career as a writer.
Not everything is funny. Many of the anecdotes stand out and make you wonder at the complexities of life. Raised by a single parent - his mother, the tough jobs King did even after passing out from college, how King related to the creation of his breakthrough novel "Carrie" where he recounts his memory of 2 unfortunate girls in his school, etc are moving and emotionally impactful. The support he received from his dedicated loving wife is also quite heart-warming to read. His was not an easy life growing up or as a father and husband - but he remembers it fondly and has endured it in great spirits. He even recounts the very personal account of his struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse. He overcame those addictions and gave up cigarette smoking as well.
But all this is just a background, a buildup toward how he became a professional writer and maintained his success.
The book continues and reveals his thoughts on the process of writing. This reveals his process of writing based on his ideas that come to him from paying attention to the story when the story presents itself. He says the story is not made, the story makes itself. He mentions how he comes up with a unique situation and lets his characters thrive in the situation, thus surprising himself with a story which he discovers as a writer transcribing the goings on in the situation and the characters in them. He likens this process to unravelling a fossil in the ground. He does not approve plotting and writing to the plots restrictions. He compares the plot to a jackhammer being used to excavate a fossil, preferring instead to take time with a writers basic tools to excavate the delicate fossil which is the story idea. He doesn't know how his stories will end until he writes the final word.
He discusses and gives examples of various stages of writing and getting it published. This may not be a comprehensive guide on everything there is to know about writing but it paints for us a clear picture through his vast experience in the field of the craft.
In the last few chapters King shares his painful experience of getting hit by a van. Serious injuries he sustained and his thought process at the time are mentioned in detail. The description is powerful and emotional and makes you feel as if you are witnessing it all right in front of you.
There is more than enough positivity and encouragement and wisdom in this book - it should get you started and motivated to pen your own epic. You can even see this book as a fine non-fiction to enrich your life, not just a book on the art of writing.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
The Bourne Identity
by Robert Ludlum
* * * * */5
An espionage novel that thrills from start to end.
If there is ever a novel worth labelling thriller, this is it. A real page turner from the word go - from first page to last and everything in between. This is the second Ludlum novel I have read, first being The Matarese Countdown which was quite average. This so much more infinitely better, well researched, well plotted, planned, characterised, thought out and with a fastpaced action packed narrative. If anyone thinks NYT bestsellers are not literature then they have never come across such masterpiece storytelling and probably live in a remote cave with their loathsome copies of Shakespeare or John Updike.
The Bourne Identity is a gripping tale of a man, his origins, his uncertain present and conspiracies that entangle a range of ruthless or unsuspecting people somehow associated with the man they dont really know. The movie version is set in a modern setting and far different from this novel but both are definitely greatly enjoyable taken individually. The book set quite a few decades ago (when it was written) deals with the enigma known globally as Carlos the jackal. Bourne and Carlos drive this story with each proving their worth without which they could be dead. A race against time across varying locations in differing situations that make you glued to the book you hold closer and closer as plans unfold, dead bodies discovered, news and its targets manipulated and an ever changing landscape for the protagonist with an unknown past and bleak future.
The beginning is the end and the end is the beginning. There is a covert mission for Jason Bourne but unexpected circumstances have made him lose his memory. His mind throws glimpses of images, some words stand out and he has not lost his ability for being a highly talented operative. The man is plagued by these things, not knowing where it comes from and what it means. Only one thing is clear - there are people out to get him, kill him and he needs to solve the puzzle that is his mind. To uncover where he comes from and why he has talents that are so unusual.
The novel is an exploration of not just the man's mind but the unexpected possibilities of covert missions, deception and the dangerous world of terrorism. This book does work as a standalone but of course Ludlum wrote 2 more of Bourne adventures. The thrill of the first ignites a passion to read on. Pick this up and forget the movie version for the time being. Both are great in their uniqueness. There are no cell phones or other gadgetry in this old novel but the novel isn't dated. If anything it proves how effective a trained person can be when dealt with uncertain and life-threatening circumstances. A real masterpiece from Ludlum.