Tag Archives: books

I never thought I’d say this, but Vikas Swarup’s latest book SUCKS

1 Jun

I don’t ever judge books by their covers. Instead, I judge them by their first pages. Whenever I find myself in a bookshop (which is probably more often than is healthy), I grab a couple of novels in the genre I fancy, skim the blurb, and read page 1. If the style doesn’t grab me, I move on. It’s a simple, efficient method that has worked for me with great success.

About two weeks ago, I broke my own rule. I bought a book without even opening it. Featuring a girl in ugly sweat pants running into a grey blur of traffic, what made this cover stand out was the name of the author. In larger-than-humble, bright and tacky purple capitals, a gleeful me was informed that VIKAS SWARUP had published another of his adventure stories.

I was elated. This dude is, after all, the writer who got me into all things Indian. His vivid portrayal of the country and its people was what led me to discover other literary favourites like Shantaram and The god of small things.

Vikas Swarup is the rare sort of writer who can use a completely unbelievable premise for a story and just weave such realness into in. Or at least, he used to be that sort of writer. Where Slumdog and Six Suspects were bloody brilliant – the type of books that cause a happy suspension of eating, sleeping and having sex – this new one, The Accidental Apprentice, may as well have been written by a 12 year old with average talent. It’s PATHETIC.

The worst book you'll read all year

The worst book you’ll read all year

Telling the story of Sapna Sinha (a not-too-pretty but heart-of-gold TV salesgirl), the book follows her through seven tests she has to perform in order to become the CEO of an eccentric gazillionaire’s multinational company. Yup, you read right – the story is about a shop assistant in a HiFi Corporation who gets picked to become the CEO of something like BHP Billiton. What utter shit…

Still – it has the makings of a good Vikas Swarup story.

1. Ridiculous premise – check!
2. Underdog main character – check!
3. Tests / quiz questions to base the chapters on – check!

I expected something like Slumdog – that the seven tests she is given are somehow informed by her life experience, each chapter telling the story of how she had come to possess the knowledge and skill to pass the given test.

I was wrong. The tests aren’t even tests, but instead random things that just happen to her. Plodding along slowly, we see Sapna pass “test” after “test”.

Each and every time, the same crap is repeated:

Step 1: Something unlikely happens. The language used to describe this something unlikely is painfully bad.

Step 2: Sweet, syrupy Sapna does “the right thing”. The language used to describe this right thing is painfully bad.

Step 3: The gazillionaire dude summons her and informs her that – boom! – she has passed yet another test. The language used to describe this is painfully bad.

Step 4: She is baffled by how he could have known about yet another good deed she did, and decides to go back to selling TVs. You guessed it – the language used to describe this is indeed painfully bad.

To illustrate:

The “Integrity Test”:

The lame-ass electronics store Sapna works for is visited by Bollywood’s biggest star. I’m talking Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston kind of big. The star thinks a TV shop is the perfect place to announce her engagement to the press. She somehow loses her boulder-sized diamond. Sapna finds it and returns it, even though the star was mean to her. Yay, Sapna!

The gazillionaire summons her. She has passed the test of integrity. She is baffled and goes back to selling TV’s.

(Plot-fail alert! Why the hell would the Cameron Diaz of Bollywood announce her engagement at a HiFi Corporation? In fact – why would she even BE there?? Everyone knows only D-grade losers like Kurt Darren do “public appearances” in local shops. LAME!)

The type of celebrity that visits Hifi Corporation

The type of celebrity that visits Hifi Corporation

The type that doesn't.

The type that doesn’t.

The “Courage Test”:

Sapna visits a small village to help them plug in their new TVs. (No. I’m not kidding). On the bus there, she sits next to the Ruda Landman of India – a hard-hitting journo on her way to expose how young girls are forced to marry men they don’t love. She shows Sapna how she uses her cellphone to stream live footage to their CNN-ey website.

Sapna gets to the village and shows them how to plug in their TVs. She meets a girl who will be forced to marry an old perv. She saves the girl by going into the toilet and switching on her phone’s video camera. The girl’s family miraculously calls off the wedding because dear, sweet Sapna recorded them slapping her around a bit, and managed to stream it live to her bus-buddy’s website. The whole world sees, and the girl is free! Yay, Sapna!

The gazillionaire summons her. She has passed the test of courage. She is baffled and goes back to selling TV’s.

(Plot-fail alert! Since when can members of the public simply record random videos and stream it live to news sites?
At best, Sapna would have had access to her own Twitter account. And given how bloody annoying she is, that would only have reached about 14 people.)

Let’s stop this dismal summary right here. The truth is, I couldn’t get further than halfway through the book. I only got as far as I did because I was reading at a hair salon that did not offer me any magazines. And I only bought it at all because I was stupid enough not to read the first page.

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to condemn a book I didn’t even finish, but I don’t care.

Don’t. Buy. This. Book.

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Grumpy humour: A top 10

20 Feb

I’m a sucker for grumpy humour. Where most people stopped watching My Family when Nick disappeared, I happily carry on watching because of my favourite character – the universally disliked Ben Harper – is still there. A grumpy old dentist who basically hates his life and everything in it, he’s TV’s ultimate grumpy old man.

But this post is not about Ben Harper – it’s about a book that reads as if it was written by him: Is it just me, or is everything shit?

Ben Harper - the grumpiest, funniest bugger on TV

Ben Harper – the grumpiest, funniest bugger on TV

This book is not to be found on any current best seller list, and is probably not even easily available at the shops anymore. I found it at an Exclusive Books sale years ago, and rediscovered it this week.

Almost 300 pages of pure disgruntledness about, well, everything.It’s fabulous when you just hate the world and all its Polyannas. (It’s also the sort of thing the Erasmus and Snyman cousins find hilarious – so here’s to Carli, me, Iranda, Caroline and Lara. I’m not sure why we have such a sick sense of humour, but I love it.)

Allow me to share my personal Top 10 entries:

1. Unnecessary Greeting Cards

“For my wife…On Mother’s Day.” Such messages are presumably intended to carry the subtext “For my wife on Mother’s Day, because, as you know, I tend to think of you as my mother.”

“Congratulations on your divorce!” Presumably comes with the message: “Roses are red / Violets are blue / You didn’t get the house / But you did get the canoe!”

“Congratulations on your teeth whitening!”

2. The Markets’ Reaction

Whenever a new terrorist catastrophe hits a major Western city, the first thought on every citizen’s mind is: Hmm, I wonder how my shares are doing. Oh, that’s right, I don’t have any. Still, I wonder how other people’s shares are doing… This is why, after the 7/7 bombings, news networks speedily escorted viewers away from the sites of the atrocities and toward the City of London to discover how “the markets” might be affected. And what did our correspondents tell us? Stocks remained “resilient.” Thank G*d.

Rich douche

Rich douche

(As a personal side note – I’m writing this in a coffee shop in Johannesburg. Often work from here. Table next to me has 3 typical “big city” JHB idiots who probably DO consider the markets’ reaction before anything else. Don’t expect any less from people who spend coffee with friends bragging about their stock portfolios and bank balances. Groan.)

3. Paying off your mortgage in 2 years

Top tip to save money to do this: Kill yourself.

There’s no surer way to spend less than being dead. As a bonus, any insurance policies you hold will be paying out like a fruit machine with three triple bars on hold… Irony is free, so treat yourself to a highly poignant death by smashing your brains open against the window of your bank… Now, for insurance reasons, it needs to look like an accident. You’ll need a big run-up to get enough force to kill yourself, so start from the other side of the road while looking down the street and smiling and waving into the distance, as if you have just seen an old acquaintance and have become distracted. Just keep running until you hit the bank and hopefully die… Also remember, in the days leading up to killing yourself, that you can save money by not eating anything or turning on any lights.

4. Sex tips

Some people are so expert at sex that they become “sexperts”. Some of the most common sex tips include the following:

Breathe on each other. As one of you breathes in, the other breathes out, so you inhale each other’s breath. Breathing – it rocks!

Don’t underestimate the erotic power of the elbow. Find out what you can do with yours and before long your love buddy will be dragging you upstairs as soon as you walk in the door!

Sexy!

Sexy!

Lather up each other’s pubic regions with shampoo to make amusing shapes. Laughter is a great way of creating a sexy atmosphere!?!?

Stuff each other’s mouths full of cheese – then lick each other all over. You’ll be amazed at the new sensations you both experience!

5. Kitsch Knickknack shops

“Ooh”, people think, “a present shop. Maybe I can get a present in this shop for presents and thus satisfy my present-buying needs.” Then they go inside and remember it’s actually a festival of shit with price tags on. You can find:

George Bush fridge magnets – you can dress him up as either Shirley Temple or Wonder Woman

Numerous cards featuring a picture of a 1950s housewife and a rude slogan – something like, ON SUNDAYS, DOREEN ENJOYED NOTHING BETTER THAN A GOOD SPIT ROAST

1950's housewife

1950’s housewife

A monkey. With the head of a monkey.

Of course, no-one actually wants this crap. But they get it anyway…

6. Celebrity perfumes and product lines

Celebrity fragrances have rubbish names. There’s Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker; David Beckham’s Instinct; True Star Gold by Beyonce… Sean John’s scent is Unforgivable. By which we don’t mean that it’s unforgivable, although it probably is.

Pop sensation Usher has his own line of credit cards aimed at impressionable teenagers. Sort of like saying, “Hey kids, if you enjoyed my album Confessions, you’ll love a life of debt!”

7. Ads for credit cards

Your life is not exciting enough, quite simply, because you haven’t borrowed enough money. That much should be self-evident. Borrowing money may make you taller. You will have a nicer smile, and have read more books – while still finding time for that all-important Jet-skiing holiday.

8. Baby name books

Nobody has ever found a good name in a baby book because most of the entries are things like Hadrian, Dylis, Mortimer, and Binky. Oh yes, and Adolf.

The UK’s Collins Gem version genuinely point out that the name has never been popular and received a further setback with the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Setback? I’ll say.

9. Porsche SUV’s

Want an SUV so you can loom over other road users like the US Army? But also want something sporty to accelerate ludicrously away from the lights before suddenly braking at the next roundabout?

Then the Porsche Cayenne is the car for you: two utterly pointless vehicles in one. No-one likes you.

10. Yummy mommies

Don’t just lie there! It’s been two hours since you’ve given birth. Get on that treadmill now. Or you’re never going to “snap right back” by the end of the week. Society expects!

Naughty, naughty!

Naughty, naughty!


Also, if you don’t spend on your child in its first 3 months the same as a yearly wage, then your child will be ugly and stupid. And who wants that?

***

Absolutely loved this book – treat yourself and find it online. The authors are Steve Lowe, Alan McArthur and Brendan Hay.

If the mob had me on speed dial, I’d also say I made it all up…

6 Feb

Last Saturday night was one of those that party people like my ex-self would find categorically ‘sad’. I stayed in and read. In fact, except for sulking my way through some shopping, I stayed in and read pretty much the whole day. Book lovers would know the feeling – you find a novel that is both so long and so good that you have no choice but to put life on hold.

In this case, it was Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram, recommended to me by my friend and fellow bibliophile, Jana. At almost a 1000 pages, I think it’s the longest novel I’ve ever finished (unless Harry Potter was longer? I’ve never been able to get into Tolkien, so embarrassingly Lord of the Rings doesn’t feature on my list).

Anyway – the book is bloody brilliant and I would recommend it to anyone who:

• Is obsessed with reading books about India (that’s me);

Likes their love stories to be complicated, messy and not have one dimensional happily-ever-afters;

• Likes their adventure stories to be layered and rich and just plain hardcore;

• Has a morbid fascination with the mob (if this is ever made into a movie, they better pick someone hot for the mobster called Abdullah); and

If you like your messed-up bad boys, you've just found your favourite character

If you like your messed-up bad boys, you’ve just found your favourite character

• Lives a humdrum desklife and uses such cheats as books and movies for some
vicarious excitement (that’s me again).

Also – to anyone who would like to know what life is like as a gun smuggler / heroin addict / slum dweller / mobster / prisoner / too many characters to fathom for one lifetime. Because the writer’s life is friggin CRAZY.

For those of you who don’t know – the book is Roberts’s semi-autobiographical account of a decade of living in India after escaping from an Australian prison. I’m not going to write a review – there are literally hundreds on goodreads.com – but suffice it to say that I cannot think of another book that combines such a rich plot with writing that brims with such descriptive poignancy and wisdoms.

The setting of our tale

The setting of our tale

What I wish to write about is my disappointment at realising that the book is semi-autobiographical (and then to leave you with some quotes that made me think).

You see, I spent the whole way through under the impression that the novel was pretty much the truth. Sure, us writers all like to edit and embellish our tales as we go along, but for the most part the truth stays intact.

Not so here. I suppose it shouldn’t matter – the book is amazing regardless of whether it is true – but it lost some of the magic it held for me after I found out that the characters were made up.

According to the writer, the events are based in truth, but the characters – so well written and so damn real – are not. Despite the events being pretty darn exciting, the heart of this book is its characters. Also – the events are so closely interlinked with the people involved that I am still finding it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that the two can be separated.

I’m especially disappointed that Karla is imaginary. Without giving anything away, she is Roberts’s love interest and the biggest reason I kept reading – like a typical girl, I wanted the guy to get out of jail / get off heroin / not get gangrenous frostbite in Afghanistan just so he could finally get back to friggin Karla. And now I find out Karla doesn’t even exist?? It sucks, I tell you.

Kind of what Karla is supposed to look like

Kind of what Karla is supposed to look like

(Karla is also the wisest and wittiest imaginary woman you’ll ever know – to realise that her words were actually made up by a male writer sucks ass.)

What Roberts claims her to be...

What Roberts claims her to be…

My personal theory is that Roberts is lying to us. I may just be in denial (or I may have become like those deluded old tannies who cannot separate fact and fiction, hobbling up to hapless soap actors to kick them in the shins when their character did something sucky on last night’s episode), but hear me out.

The characters MUST have been based in fact. There is simply too much woven into them not to be. If Roberts wanted to write fiction, why choose his own life as a template? More importantly, why link his own story squarely to the wills, worlds and intentions of other characters? A major theme in the book is that of fate and predetermination – of being connected to plans and people and purpose. Yet we are expected to believe that the events were real, but the people were not…

Our life stories are written by the people in our lives and how we interact with them – without the people described in the narrative, Roberts’s personal life events (the true part, he says), would never have come about.

Again – he may just be one helluva creator of characters, but I just don’t buy it.

I’m going to choose to believe that he never thought his text would take off and sell like it has, and was then forced to make a statement to protect the people he wrote about. They’re not exactly Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh – even Karla killed a guy, and the rest of them did worse.

All I’m saying is – if the mafia had my number on speed dail, I’d lie to protect them, too…

If this guy tells you to lie, you damn well do it

If this guy tells you to lie, you damn well do it

***
Now read these quotes slowly and let them sink in. There is SO much more – but I think this post is long enough already…

“There’s a truth deeper than experience. It’s beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It’s an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We’re helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn’t always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart, just as Prabhakar told it to me, just as I’m telling it to you now.”

“Indians are the Italians of Asia and vice versa. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy, and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop at the corner. For them, food is the music inside the body and music is the food inside the heart. Amore or Pyar makes every man a poet, a princess of peasant girl if only for second eyes of man and woman meets.” (I love this!)

“If fate doesn’t make you laugh, then you don’t get the joke.”

“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men,’ he said, ‘It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds and there are bad deeds. Men are just men —it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good or evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone —the noblest of man alive or the most wicked— has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.”

“Luck is what happens to you when fate gets tired of waiting.”

“The truth is a bully we all pretend to like.”

“Some of the worst wrongs, were caused by people who tried to change things.”

***
Absolutely friggin brilliant book.

If Robert Pattinson looks like an intellectual Ginger, I must be the Queen Mother

1 Jun

Anyone who follows me on Facebook would know that I’ve been borderline obsessed with Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants the last while.

Maybe I just wanted to escape the confines of my hum-drum desk life for a circus adventure, but I was hooked.

After completing the book and watching the film – always fantastic to see how someone else imagined the same story – I can honestly award the prize of Worst Overall Casting to Water for Elephants.

Here’s why:

  1. Jacob Jankowski – Robert Pattinson

I have a personal grudge against whoever the casting agent is that keeps using this guy as anyone but Edward Cullen.

As Edward, Rob Pattinson is pretty much perfection – I can’t remember an exact excerpt describing the character, but suffice it to say that the Twilight movies got it right.

Dark, broody, intense – and with a bit of editing, shiny.

Robert IS Edward. He must accept this and stop acting now, especially in film adaptations of books I love.

Rob IS Edward. The poster even says so.

He looks NOTHING like the Jacob Jankowski in my book and mind. Why? Because he’s not a Ginger.

I know this may be petty of me, but the least he could have done is dye his hair. Or wear a wig. Or better yet, just not audition at all.

I’m not saying that the Napoleon Dynamite guy would have been a better choice, but I am saying that a Ginger Jake Gyllenhaal would have done it for me. And this is not only because old Jake is by far the hottest thing inHollywood.

 Also – I think it’s perverse that Edward is playing a guy called Jacob.

  1. Marlena – Reese Witherspoon

Much as I love Little Miss RomCom, she was a weak Marlena.

Also, she doesn’t have dark blonde hair and a freckle face. I take offense to the Platinum bombshell portrayal of a girl who is supposed to be pretty, but plain-looking.

If mousey hair and imperfect facial features are enough to get the guy in the book, I don’t understand why they shouldn’t be enough on the big screen.

Personally, I’m pretty bored of everyone wanting to look Photoshopped. It’s not Real. In the real world, us mousy blondes exist, too. And guess what – guys often prefer a girl who actually looks like a human being instead of Botox Barbie.

Then also, Rob and Reese don’t get the whole Cougar thing right.

In the book, Jacob is a virgin who ran away from college while Marlena is married and obviously, ahem, older and experienced, but they have CHEMISTRY. Like crazy.

Rob and Reese looked about as enthusiastic about each other as a cat about a bowl of lettuce.

Speaking of… The sex in the book is pretty graphic. Not tacky and porno-style. But graphic and honest.

The first encounter between Jacob and Marlena occurs after they have both been badly beaten up by Marlena’s abusive husband. It’s bloody. It’s urgent. It’s HOT.

If there was a sex scene in the movie, I don’t even remember it.

My first choice for Marlena? Emma Stone. She’s freckled, and I don’t think she’d have minded coloring the Ginger a mousey shade of blonde. Plus, if Zac Efron can continuously play 17 year olds, I guessHollywood can reverse the trend and have Emma play someone slightly older.

All-natural Emma… Marlena looks more like you

 

3. August – Christopher Waltz

I must admit, this character was the best of a bad bunch.

He looks like crazy old August is supposed to.

The problem is, he was a watered-down version. Sure, they showed that he was a cruel bastard. But did they show exactly how calculated? How complex?

No. 

  1. Camel – Jim Norton

This guy is supposed to be a decrepit, dirty old bum who’s addicted to alcohol and is mostly rude, selfish and gross.

Sure, he has his moments, but he’s not the clean-cut old man you see on the screen. 

  1. Uncle Al – The Invisible Man

 The worst casting of all – poor old Uncle Al (who, to be fair is as big a bastard as the abusive August) doesn’t even EXIST in the movie.

Huh??

I don’t want to even BEGIN talking about how the plot itself was mangled – sure, the tale loosely resembled the book, but useless add-ins were made and the complexity completely lost.

Not only was the casting shit, but the screenplay took a story that was intricate, complex and visual and turned it into a lame, one-dimensional love story in which the lovers don’t even seem to want each other. Indeed – my biggest gripe with the August portrayal is that his relationship with Marlena comes across as almost a happy marriage.

Which it was not.

From my side, 2/10.

 

 

 

  

Screw Dickens – this is the best opening page ever.

1 May

Poetry.

To all of those who, like me, are struggling with purpose, destiny and certainty.

This is a short copy and paste post.

 Read aloud, and absorb:

 Page 1, Damage, Josephine Hart:

 There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it, ease like water over a stone, on to its fluid contours, and are home.

 Some find it in the place of their birth; others may leave a seaside town, parched, and find themselves refreshed in the desert. There are those born in the countryside who are really only at ease in the intense and busy loneliness of the city.

For some, the search is for the imprint of another; a child or a mother, a grandfather or a brother, a lover, a husband, a wife or a foe.

 We may go through our lives happy or unhappy, successful or unfulfilled, loved or unloved, without ever standing cold with the shock of recognition, without ever feeling the agony as the twisted iron in our soul unlocks itself,

and we slip at last into place.

 

I’ll leave it at that.

Hope it speaks to you as it did to me…

Truly, poetry dressed as prose.