Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Bookshelf (V)

book reviews

Michael Jackson’s autobiography gets a re-release, Jasper Fforde takes us on a journey into Jane Eyre, while John Grisham’s latest fails to satisfy

Michael Jackson
At the top of his career in 1988, Michael Jackson published his autobiography, Moonwalk, both capitalizing on the public interest that had been generated by his music and antics while also getting a chance to offer his own take on all that was being said about him in the tabloids. The book was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and became a number one bestseller soon after its release. Following his untimely death last year, Moonwalk has been reissued, this time with an introduction by Motown founder Berry Gordy. The book offers an honest, yet somewhat guarded, account of MJ’s life, including memories of his childhood, insight into his battle with his image, as well as a look at his creative process while making Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad. But here’s the snag: Moonwalk was written before Michael went into seclusion and before the occurrence of many of the incidents that became tabloid fodder, so while some of what he says might’ve been new information in 1988, there isn’t much in the book that will, at this point, come as a revelation and his fans probably won’t find out much about him that they didn’t already know. Yet, since the book does offer a piece of Michael’s thoughts and feelings and a view of his life in his own words, there are still some things that can be read between the lines and that can help give you a better idea of who the person behind the persona really was, because while everything else that has written about him is someone else’s interpretation of his life, this book presents his story the way he wanted to tell it.

John Grisham
The Associate
In his latest legal thriller, best selling author John Grisham tells the story of a promising law student Kyle McAvoy who has a secret and is blackmailed into taking a job he doesn’t want, making him a pawn in corporate espionage. Suffering through the perils of being a first-year associate with a huge law firm while being monitored by a shady figure, Kyle must find a way to untangle the mess he’s in. A typical Grisham novel, you’d think, and for most part you’d be right: the writing isn’t bad, the premise is interesting, and the plot has potential. But then we get to the surprise ending: the surprise being that there is no ending. Or at least that’s how it feels. As you read the last page of The Associate, not only are you uncertain about the future of Kyle, but you’re also left wondering, where did the rest of the book go? It’s like someone just told the writer to stop writing, and he simply put his pen down. Which is a shame because the story certainly has potential. Unfortunately, that potential is never fulfilled, and while it will keep you interested, the conclusion is bound to let you down. Even if you don’t consider The Associate a complete disaster (presuming you don’t mind ambiguous endings), the book certainly isn’t at par with John Grisham’s earlier work.

Jasper Fforde
The Eyre Affair
Propelled by a very creative premise, Jasper Fforde’s metafiction fantasy novel The Eyre Affair is set in a literature obsessed alternative 1985, and, just as its name would suggest, references the Charlotte Brontë opus Jane Eyre. Published in 2001, the book was the first in the Thursday Next series, which features the adventures of the literary detective as she investigates the theft of manuscripts and strives to protect works of literature from criminals. In The Eyre Affair, after Thursday’s uncle Mycroft invents a Prose Portal machine which allows people to enter works of fiction, Acheron Hades (the story’s villain) gains access to the device and threatens to destroy Jane Eyre, after which Thursday must pursue him into the text and save the book for future generations. Overall the idea of the book is very clever, and the imaginative world built by Fforde is both amusing and creative. Yet somehow the book is less than the sum of its parts, or perhaps it just isn’t for everyone. It is clever, yet lacks the emotional development that was needed for the characters to resonate with the readers, and to some it may even seem contrived. That said, it is easy to understand why this series has been so successful, because the book does show promise for the rest of the series (there have been four sequels to the book so far), and it will definitely strike a chord with literature fans, so if you are into classics (and especially if you enjoy debating topics like Shakespearean authorship) then you might want to give The Eyre Affair a try – it isn’t stellar, but it is quirky and wildly imaginative, and filled with literary allusions that bookworms are likely to enjoy.


P. G. Wodehouse
Jill The Reckless
First published in 1920 under the title The Little Warrior, Jill The Reckless follows the story of Jill Mariner, a spirited young woman engaged to be married to Sir Derek Underhill, but a series of mishaps leave her financially broke. And after her fiancée breaks off the engagement, Jill travels to America and joins the chorus of the musical The Rose of America. In the U.S., she reconnects with her childhood friend Wally Mason, while her good-natured pal Freddie Rooke sets off on an ill-advised mission to patch things up between her and Underhill. In typical Wodehouse style, the story spins around a simple yet complicated plot, and sends the reader on an entertaining roller coaster of comedic complications and amusing results. It’s a fun filled journey that entertains while giving readers a glimpse of the inner working of early 1900s Broadway as the feisty protagonist finds her way through life and learns to deal with all that comes her way. This may be one of the lesser-known novels by the celebrated master of prose, but Jill The Reckless is still a gem, especially for Wodehouse fans, and it is simply a delight to read.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly - May-Jul, 2010

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