Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Cocktails for Three - Madeleine Wickham

Date of Reading: 04/02/2015
Author: Madeleine Wickham
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Place: New York
Year: 2006
Rating: 4.5/5

         As most of the Sophie Kinsella books have passed my 'read' list, there was no other way but to shift the attention to Madeleine Wickham ones, though the novels are quite of a different taste and it is hard to believe that they are from the same pen. And after much soul searching in different reading groups, here I am, with 'Cocktails for Three' a story blended with love, humor and mystery.
         Three cocktails, that is what Wickham offers in this single volume; three stories with their sole connection knotted around a cocktail bar in Manhattan, involving the lives of three women who are unable to say 'no' because they are too good and is determined not to fail. And that is their hubris -- by not opening completely to their best friends and by keeping up the image of the invincible lady, they lose their battles . . . or almost. This is not an Aristotelian tragedy but a story that reminds us of the significance of relationships (whether that is friendship, love or marriage) and the importance of asserting one's identity and above all, not to be ashamed of yourself.
         
Candice, Roxanne, and Maggie are three best friends who work in the fashion magazine, Londoner. Maggie is an editor, Candice conducts interviews, and Roxanne is a glamorous freelancer. In the first of every month they meet together for cocktails in a quiet Manhattan bar, which by the beginning of the story has become quite popular and therefore noisy.
         All three has a secret not shared to anyone. Roxanne is having a secret affair with a married man. Maggie is in the advanced stage of her pregnancy but she is afraid of motherhood but her proud self doesn't allow her to give a hint even to her best friends. Candice's father had robbed people of money by persuading them to invest on his schemes and the details revealed only after his death shattered her life along with her mother.
         On this particular day in the bar she finds an opportunity to diminish the guilt that weighs on her, when she meets her high school classmate Heather Trelawney. Heather's family has gone bankrupt due to their association with Candice's father and she dropped out of school when her parents divorced. Candice assists her in getting  a job in Londoner and even shares her flat with Heather against the better judgement of her friends. But Heather had other goals in her mind.
          As per her husband's wish who wants their children to grow up in an unpolluted environment, Maggie moves to a country mansion where she feels utterly alone in spite of the frequent visits of her mother-in-law. And the arrival of the baby exhausts her completely but she is too embarrassed to ask for help.
         Roxanne is devastated with her secret lover, Ralph, who is the owner of the Londoner. He refuses to go for a divorce as his little son may not comprehend the situation. But now his days are running short due to the attack of cancer that is creeping on him, a fact he hides from his lover. 
Madeleine Wickham
           Meanwhile Heather has started her moves. She makes Candice do her works, steals her ideas and finally succeeds in splitting her from her cocktail club friends. She soon loses her job too for a crime she has not committed but forged by Heather. 
         Ralph dies leaving his house to Roxanne and thus gives legitimacy to their relationship. And when Maggie breaks down in frustration her mother-in-law intervenes asking her son to take equal responsibility in taking care of their baby. They decide to move back to London so that Maggie can resume her job.
         Candice finds her refuge in Ed, her rich neighbor who always wanted her to understand his secret feelings. The calamity brought down by Heather brings them together and she learns from Heather's brother that she was offered education and security by their stepfather but she just chose to rebel.
          Roxanne and Maggie clears Candice's name and their friendship is back on track. Story ends with the baptism of little Lucia and she is welcomed to their cocktail club.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Ramayana The Game of Life (#2): Shattered Dreams

Date of Reading: 16/02/2015
Author: Shubha Vilas
Publisher: Jaico
Place: Mumbai
Year: 2015
From: BlogAdda 
Rating: 3.5/5

            This is the era of retelling for Indian mythology. Ever since the success of Amish Tripathi more and more writers have ventured into the market with counter narratives to our favourite epics or by giving voice to a minor character ignored in the course of main events. As I was familiar with a few of them, the task of reading a work which is faithful to the original version of Ramayana proved difficult than usual.
          Shubha Vilas' Ramayana, let me assure you, is not a novel; I would rather call it a spiritual guide on Ramayana. He hasn't made any changes to the original story but the plot is enriched with some additional details like how Nemi became Dasaratha or the origin story of Ravana which was completely new to me. And the constant use of capitals when it comes to addressing Rama (the personal pronouns like 'Him, His' are capitalised in the beginning) constantly reminds us of the divinity status attributed to Rama by the author and gives the atmosphere of a religious book though it is claimed to be a gripping new-age thriller.

          If you are familiar with the outline of Ramayana, there won't be any problems starting from the second book without reading the first. Most often we get the feeling that this is an English translation of the verse epic to prose as the metaphors like lotus feet, lotus face and trees shedding the leaves due to grief are repeated without any change which is felt out of place in a prose narration and also in a modern retelling for laymen.
           What is commendable about the work is the little words of wisdom added as footnotes which takes us to the deeper levels of Ramayana and teaches how a story that happened thousands of years ago can still inspire us with new notions. This self-help book is not a one time read, but something to be cherished always and as Bacon reminds us it is to be "chewed and digested".

Short Summary:
         
Dasaratha wakes up from his nightmare drenched in sweat, haunted by the curse which is looming over his life. In an urgent court meeting next day, he declares Rama's coronation and the whole of Ayodhya rejoices in the news except one. Manthara, the hunch backed maid of Queen Keikeyi warns her Queen of the dangers that may happen if her son, Bharata, is not declared as the king. Keikeyi redeems her two boons from Dasaratha and asks kingship for Bharata and fourteen years of exile for Rama. 
           Rama, along with Sita and Laxmana, sets out immediately and the old king dies of separation from his son. Bharata, returning from his maternal home, is astounded by the turn of events. Embarrassed by  his mother's actions he tries to pacify Rama to return to Ayodhya but to no avail. Finally taking his brothers sandals Bharata returns to the kingdom and promises to rule it for fourteen years with Rama's sandals on the throne. Rama, along with others moves to Dandakaranya forest.

Quotes I Liked:
". . . jokes can be costly. Although meant to lighten life, when shared with the wrong people, jokes could end up burdening our lives" - 89

"Seeing the positives in every situation is the nature of a pure mind" - 129

"Good relationships survive when those involved realize that the greatest gift two people actually have is each other." - 131

"Finding fault with your own thought process is an important aspect of growth, but seeking forgiveness for faulty actions is important for survival" - 184

"Lamentation that causes prolonged inaction is actually irresponsibility at an individual level and leads to chaos at a collective level" - 281

"One should fear an untruthful person more than a snake. Every good quality has its foundation in truth" - 354 

About the Author:
         
Shubha Vilas, a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker, holds a degree in engineering and law with a specialization in patent law. His leadership seminars are popular with top-level management in corporate houses. He also helps individuals apply the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana and other dharmic traditions in dealing with modern day life situations. He believes that a good teacher always sees the process of learning and teaching simultaneously as an inherent aspect of personal and spiritual growth.

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