Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Archive for October, 2008

Middle Passage — Charles Johnson — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 27, 2008

Some recent comments of Horace Engdahl – permanent secretary of Nobel Committee, on American literature stirred a minor controversy in literary circles on both sides of the Atlantic. He called American literature insular, isolated and in some sense self absorbed and not engaging enough with the bigger world outside. Given my limited reading of any literature (leave alone American literature) I could not comment on the truth in these observations. However, this prompted me to turn my attention onto  some contemporary American literature. As an approach to selecting books by contemporary writers from US,  I immediately looked at the prominent prizes for literature in the US to check if I had any books in my inventory that have won these prizes. While there are multiple prizes, the two most prominent ones appeared to be The National Book Award and The Pulitzer Prize. A quick stock taking showed that I have with me four National Book Award Winners i.e. The “Shipping News” by Annie Proulx, “Ship Fever and Other Stories” by Andrea Barret, “Color Purple” by Alice Walker, “Middle Passage” by Charles Johnson. I picked up Middle Passage for reading – partly attracted by the touch of east in its title and partly to check if Engdahl’s comments held any water

Middle Passage is a powerhouse of a book from the word go. Set in the 18th century, it is the tale of Rutherford Calhoun a newly freed slave (manumission is the word) from Illinois who to escape the pressures of an impending marriage and cutthroat creditors steals himself onto Republic – a slave trading ship. What starts as almost a funny, boisterous adventure (that one gets to see in the typical sea stories) quickly transforms into a poignant story of horror, ruthlessness, cruelty, cannibalism, mutiny and the consequences there of. Republic is led by an extremely well educated but ruthless captain Falcon. Falcon is funded by three rich and ruthless American business men one of whom is Papa Zeringue who is also directly linked to the creditors of Calhoun. Actually Papa Zeringue is the one who forces Calhoun into what initially appears to Calhoun an unacceptable marriage to Isadora Bailey. Falcon leads the ship to a remote African coast to pick up a cargo of Allumseri slaves who are highly prized in the US markets. The cargo also includes a strange and mysterious being which from the perspective of Falcon is the most precious of the bounty. It is on the return journey that the crew mutinies against the captain and in the process the control of the ship goes into the hands of the slaves. Most of the original crew perish on their return journey and finally in utterly horrifying conditions the living members of Republic are saved by an American ship – Juno. Juno is owned by Papa Zeringue one of the original financiers of Republic who is about to marry Isadora Bailey. The return of Calhoun and nailing of Papa Zeringue for slave trading enables his marriage to Isadora. Although the novel concludes in a fairy tale ending, the experiences in the immediate previous pages leave the reader more with sigh of relief at the ending of the gruesome ordeal and leave little room for celebration of a happy ending. That in sum is the plot of Middle Passage. So what is the appeal of this book?

There are many aspects of Middle Passage that I found quite impactful. First and foremost is the verbal energy that Charles Johnson brings to his descriptions of characters and settings —- carefully imagined and superbly marshalled observations which have an arresting effect on the reader. Consider two of the brilliant descriptions……. one introducing Captain Falcon…

“his elbows splashed on the leather arms of the chair, and as his gaze crossed mine in the crepescular cabin light, as I saw his face, I felt the skin at the nape of my neck tingling like when a marksman has you in his sights, because the master of Republic, the man known for his daring exploits and subjugation of the coloured races from Africa to the West Indies, was a dwarf. Well, perhaps not a true dwarf, but Ebenezar Falcon, I saw, was shorter even than the poor, buggered cabin boy Tom. Though his legs measured less than those of his chart table, Captain Falcon had a shoulder span like that of Santos, and between this knot of monstrously developed deltoids and latissimus dorsi a long head rose with an explosion of hair so black his face seemed dead in contrast: eye sockets like anthracite furnaces, medieval lines more complex than tracery on his maps, a nose slightly to one side, and a great bulging forehead that looked harder than whalebone, but intelligent too – a thinker’s brow, it was, the kind fantasy writers put on spacemen far ahead of us in science and philosophy. His belly was unspeakable. His hands , like roots….. He was famous, In point of fact, infamous. That special breed of empire builder, explorer, and imperialist that sculptors loved to elongate, El-Greco like, in city park statues until they achieved Brobdingnagian proportions” … 

the other… looking at New Orleans through the eyes of a newly released and eager for life free citizen

“New Orleans, you should know, was a city tailored to my taste for excessive, exotic fringes of life, a world port of such extravagance in 1829 when I arrived from Southern Illinois — a newly freed bondman, my papers in an old portmanteau — that I dropped my bags and a shock of recognition shot up my spine to my throat, rolling off my tongue in a whispered “Here, Rutherford is the home” So it seemed those first few months to the country boy with cotton in his hair, a great whore of a city in her glory, a kind of glandular Golden Age. She was if not a town devoted to an almost religious pursuit of Sin, then atleast to steamy sexuality. To a newcomer she was an assault of smells: molasses commingled with mangoes in the sensually damp air, the stench of slop in the muddy street, and, from the labyrinthine warehouses on the docks, the odor of Brazilian coffee amd Mexican oil. And also this: the most exquisitely beautiful women in the world, thoroughbreds of pleasure created two centuries before by the French for the enjoyment. Mulattos coloured like magnolia petals, quadroons with breasts big as melons — women who smelled like roses all year round. Home? Brother, for a randy Illinois boy of two and twenty accustomed to cornfileds, cow plops and handjobs in his master’s hayloft, New Orleans wasn’t home. It was Heaven”.

In my view this is masterly and deeply affecting

The dialogue too is pregnant and carries a contextual punch and irony that staggered me as a reader. Once I was into the book, I felt compelled to read further on. It was as if somebody held me by the scruff of my collar and led me down the pages

The brief but powerful brush strokes on the socio economic picture of slaves and slavery in the US makes for some outstanding reading.  Johnson‘s eye for detail is superb and reflects a lot in his descriptions of the seafarers and their lives.  Johnson’s research into the finer details of ships, sea, life on sea and the conditions of sailors supplemented by his own rich imagination seem to pay off. Consider the following

But there’s not a civilised law that holds water”  Falcon’s smile flickered briefly — “once you have put to sea” ….. “The sea does things to your head, Calhoun, terrible unravelings of belief that aren’t in a cultured man’s metaphysic. We ate tallow first, then sawdust, stopped up our noses and slurped foul water from the pumps before barbecuing that Negro boy.” Falcon added sadly – I thought “he was freshly dead of course, crushed by a falling mast. He tasted …. stringy”

These strong narratives are so well knitted into the story telling that the overall tapestry comes out utterly convincing

Through the book Johnson brings out the philosophical orientation of the Allumseri tribes and I found those thoughts to have strong echoes of Advaita and very similar to what I read in Herman Hesse’s Sidhartha…..“The failure to experience the unity of Being everywhere was the Allumseri vision of Hell” (Who sees variety and not the Unity wanders on from death to death — Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad).  Even the title “Middle Passage” sounded quite Buddhist. It is only after a little bit of research on Charles Johnson, that I came to know that Johnson converted to Buddhism and practiced it earnestly. The place where the book takes a flight from this world to the otherworldly is when Johnson describes the mysterious character as “Self” and it is here that the book did not appear to be coherently knitted or should it be interpreted as a writers latitude to lead the reader into a metaphysical realm? I could not make that out

If Middle Passage is to be held as a sample to test against the comments made by Horace Engdahl, it appears that his commets fail on all counts .i.e. the book is neither insular nor isolated. Yes, it is limited to specific aspects of Afro- American experience but even through this microcosmic world Johnson tries to touch upon the universality of the macrocosmic world that we live in. Notwithstanding these academic squabbles about literature, Middle Passage, has been a wonderful, moving and excellent read. Of more important import to me is that I got introduced to another wonderful writer and look forward to reading his other books like “Oxherding Tales

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Chasing The Monsoon – Alexander Frater — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 22, 2008

Water is life sustaining. Especially in countries like India which are agrarian and densely populated its importance cannot be underestimated. Not a day goes by in India where one or more items in the news is not dedicated to the topic of water — either the complete lack of it or the sudden unmanageable excess. And one of the fundamental sources of this precious resource in India is monsoon. As a consequence, the occurrence of monsoon is a central event in the life of majority of Indians. All governamental growth projections are subject to the orderly behaviour of monsoon. Nowhere in the world are economics, politics, prosperity and the thin divide between famine and subsistence so intricately intertwined with monsoon as it is in India. Despite its centrality, the amount of available digestible information on monsoons is very limited. What is available is either wrapped in metereological arcane that an ordinary man finds it difficult to appreciate or confined to inaccessible annals of age old literature. For a vast majority of Indians, monsoons are both a boon and a bane. It is very rare that an Indian can say that he has not been impacted by monsoon in some way or the other. Who does not remember the sheer joy of sneaking out and getting wet in monsoon rains.. or the slushy discomfort prior or after the monsoon… or the maws of craving that one gets sucked into for something hot and spicy immediately after a rain?  Yet for all this I have not known any good book on monsoon that has fired the imagination of the common public. My remembrance of rain in literature is Nissim Ezekiel‘s “The Night of the Scorpion” — while the backdrop is wonderfully evocative of rain (not sure if it is  monsoon rain) it is certainly not about rain. It is about India, the attitude of its people and the heartwarming behaviour of a mother. The other one was Somerset Maugham‘s wonderful story “Rain” ( definitely not a monsoon rain) — there again it is more about the fall of human beings by temptation against a backdrop of superb evocation of the sense of rain. However, one book that I re-read in the recent past which had an explicit focus on monsoon and rain and the way it affects the lives of people in the sub continental India has been Alexander Frater‘s “Chasing The Monsoon“. This was a book that I read as a college student and picked it up for a re-read in an indecisive moment and yet for the all the indecisiveness, I could relive the joy of reading a thoroughly entertaining book

Chasing The Monsoon” is essentially travel writing where the journey is confined to the path of south eastern wing of monsoon. Frater describes his journey from Cape Comorin — the southern most tip of India — to the terminal point at CheeraPunji in Meghalaya via Kerala, Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Assam. What makes his journey interesting is the wide variety of people he meets in India — the rich, the poor, the famous and the ordinary  – all plagued and blessed by monsoon and each holding diverse and interesting views on monsoon. A wonderful aspect of the book is that through these interactions Frater manages to paint a glimpse of the complexity of India. Laced with rich references to the past, Frater furnishes an interesting portrait of monsoon while gracefully avoiding being didactic about it

For all the sad inequities of poverty, lawlessness, bureaucracy and underdevelopment that one gets to see in India, she still manages to bewitch a majority of people who have close encounters with her. Frater is no exception to that. Consider when Frater says the following: “This seem to be a nation of millions of foreigners, a bewildering accretion of mutually exclusive tongues, gods and cultures, the governance of which, shaky although it might be, appeared nothing short of miraculous“.. or…”Waving back, I reflected that India was a giant web of interlocking personal networks which, once infiltrated, would keep passing you along indefinitely“… or…”India might be an independent sovereign state freed from the constraints of the British rule, but now the descendants of the Britons were coming back and, like many of their forbears, adoring the place. Molly, possibly in the teeth of her expectations, found her self bewitched in Arcadia. As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India can still weave its spell, and key to it all — the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectation, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon“… I have also seen this bewitchment with other writers like Jhabvala, Eric Newby, Bruce Chatwin and even our good old permanent resident of India Mark Tully

Frater displays wonderful capacity for observation and narration. There are times when the quality of Frater‘s descriptive powers almost reminded me of Bruce Chatwin. Consider when he says the following: “Thunder boomed. Lightning went zapping into the sea, the leader stroke of one strike passing the ascending returning stroke of the last so that the whole roaring edifice seemed supported on pillars of fire” …. or…”the sea a motionless silver plain stippled with fragile pencil-thin fishing canoes”or…”I hadn’t known sun like this before. It penetrated the crown of the head and imploded in the brain so that you got dazzle inside as well as outside

Even while painting a picture of India and its people Frater never loses focus on monsoon. Time and again through his interactions with people living and with references to the observations of the dead, Frater manages to bring essential nature of monsoon quite picturesquely. Consider the waywardness of monsoon when he says “I wondered about the nature of this monsoon. The personality emerging was that of a troublesome relative about whom responsible family members were constantly worrying — he’s disppeared again, he’s turned up on so-and-so’s doorstep, he’s in trouble with the police, he’s got drunk up in the train and finished up in Minneapolis. I would have to keep a very very close eye on it” or in his interaction with the famous poetess Kamala Dass: ” I put the sadness theory to her she crisply dismissed it. “Nonsense!” she said. It’s the most beautiful time ! It means rejuvenation, greenery, growth. It’s nothing less than reaffirmation of life“… or…. Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote that insects and undertakers were the only living creatures which seemed to enjoy the monsoon climate — though it was he tartly noted, ‘Better than the House of Commons’

One of the characteristics of travel writers is that a majority of their observations tend to have short currency which probably will remain that way because they are observing the present and not the future…. this is something that I commented on while writing about Paul Theroux‘s “The Great Railway Bazaar” and that is evident once again when I read Frater. Consider this when Frater says “I made a mental note to call Delhi but then, remembering I would have to use the Indian telephone system, immediately cancelled it“… from that point to today the Indian telephony has come long distance.. figuratively atleast as much the distance that Monsoon travels from Cape Comorin to Cheerapunji

Overall, “Chasing The Monsoon” has been a wonderful, entertaining, informative and interesting read. I am now looking forward to read Frater‘s other books viz. “Stopping-Train Britain” and “Beyond Blue Horizon” and I hope that they will give me the same satisfaction and joy I encountered reading his “Chasing The Monsoon

Afterword: Time affects people in ways that one cannot imagine. Frater meets Pritish Nandy in Bombay and one gets to see a sense of idealism in his days as editor of Illustrated Weekly. As a student it was a magazine that I bought religiously, read end to end and reread some of the articles. There were some outstanding folks who used to write in there: Claude Alvares, Bharat Wariavala, Rajni Kothari, Dr.Ashok Mitra, Romila Thapar are some names I can remember. From that point to the current transformation, Mr.Nandy is unrecognizable. Good or bad is not for me to say.

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Beyond Nab End — William Woodruff — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 11, 2008

Obituaries have their benefits and when I say that I am not being disrespectful to the departed at all. A regular reading of the obituaries on NYTimes has introduced me to writers I have not known before. In some cases these obituaries expanded my understanding of writers whom I have known vaguely. William Styron, Norman Mailer, Elizabeth Hardwick, Kurt Vonnegut, Ira Levin, Solzhenitsyn, David Foster Wallace have been a few writers whom I have known through their obituaries. To these death induced introductions, I can also include William Woodruff. To call Woodruff a writer is in many ways misleading. He was primarily a historian and became famous for a couple of well written autobiographical books viz. “The Road to Nab End” and “Beyond Nab End”  – the latter being a sequel.  A couple of days prior to Woodruff’s death I happened to see a low priced edition of his book “Beyond Nab End” which in my ignorance I did not pay attention to. Then I happened to read his obituary and realised the mistake I was making in allowing what is considered to be a “classic” slip out of my hands. Luckily for me the shop still had a few unsold copies of the book and I promptly picked a copy for reading…

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that life many a time beats fiction hands down for its unpredictability, strangeness, twists, turns, triumphs, shocks, defeats and above all its natural capacity to leave room for an ineluctable grace. One of the most beautiful thing in my eyes is the ordinary man’s heroic resilience against odds. It is not that I am not inspired by a hero’s triumph. But what robs the conventional stories of heroism their impact is that the hero knows upfront what he is up against. In the case of an ordinary man that never is the case… life winds whip him in his face and yet the turbulence is faced and somehow weathered. And it is this “somehow” that encapsulates the resilience that is touching and many times moving. Nobody so unknowingly forges ahead by placing trust on the thing ever hidden in Pandora’s box – hope – as a common man does. It is probably why I am more moved by the struggles of a Papillon than that of a Prometheus. “Beyond Nab End” is one such story

Shorn of any maudlin sentimentality it is a story told straight from the heart and this honesty reflects throughout this autobiographical narrative. The journey of William Woodruff (Woodie) and the times are eventful both on personal and societal fronts. Woodie’s running away from home in Lancashire to London and rise from a working class “sand rat” in a sooty and suffocating foundry to the hallowed portals of high learning at Oxford is a journey that makes for a joyous reading. The underlying theme of the rise of an underdog is an alluring aspect of this narrative.  However, the more attractive aspect of the book is the description of the turn of historical events of 1939-45 leading to the culmination of WW II and also its conclusion which left a trail of hideous suffering and despair across the world. One gets a superb sense of these epochal events intertwined with Woodie’s own place in and perspectives about them. As we progress along a haunting and unforgettable picture of the times gone by emerges. As part of the narration of his story Woodruff ensures that the reader meets some wonderful people – ordinary and extraordinary who have helped and troubled him on his way. As I read through, it started to dawn on me that the progress of history is not always a pleasant one and “Beyond Nab End” brings to life the impact of this progress on ordinary people

Even while building a wonderfully absorbing sociological picture of his time, Woodruff also manage to delineate his own personality as an ego free and honest individual with a deep sense of fairness, hunger for learning and knowledge, scholarship, love for life and sport and above all well considered empathy to his fellow human beings

Throughout the book Woodruff displays a wonderful ear for London cockney and brings it to life which ensures that the reader does not miss the irony and straightforwardness asociated with it. Consider the following when Mrs.Tinker meets Woodruff as tenant in her hovel in London:

I rubbed one of the stones between thumb and finger, then another, I didn’t know what they were. ‘Stones?’
‘Stones… ofcourse them’s stones. Wot else? Wot I arsks yer is wot kind of stones?
A heavy silence hung between us
‘I don’t know’
‘Gallstones, you dummy! Mine! A record!’
I just stared
”Struth,’ she exploded gathering up her treasures. ‘Wasting my time you is. You’re the kind of bloke wot gets no ‘appy in anyfink’
or when Woodruff is on his way to the war and meets a few workers who have been conscripted as soldiers and their disdain for the upperclass (nobs) of their society… ‘Ox, mite? Aren’t you on the wrong bus? Ox nobs are officers. Does yer mean to say, mite, that yer passed up a bleedin’ bed and a batmen to live in a tent wiv us?’

The book has an indescribable freeness in the flow of its narration. Mixed with an accute sense of the major events of his time Willam Woodruffe makes his own story in “Beyond Nab End” a moving and a thoroughly enjoyable read

As I concluded the book I was exasparated at the thought that as a country we Indians lack this sense of documenting our own lives and share them with the world for everyone’s benefit….. the experiences of emancipation from foreign rule and rise to the notion of a nation could have produced some breathtaking fiction and autobiographical narratives. And for that we have almost nothing to show barring an odd one here and there like Nirad C Chaudhari‘s “The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian“. I am not very hopeful that this will change anytime soon. Smothered under the burden of time, the stories of our heroes and heroines from the common masses may never be told. That we are willing to push our own past into an unrecoverable forgetfulness is indeed disappointing.

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Woodruff quotes this poem while describing an incident involving one of his acquaintances which I quite liked:

With midnight’s always in one’s heart
And twilight in one’s cell,
We turn the crank, we tear the rope,
Each in his separate hell

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According to Mark — Penelope Lively — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 5, 2008

You can do the same with a biography. The trawling net fills, then the biographer hauls it in,sorts, throws back, stores, fillets and sells. Yet consider what he doesn’t catch: there is always far more of that. The biography stands, fat and worthy-burgherish on the shelf, boastful and sedate: a shilling life will give you all the facts, a ten pound one all the hypotheses as well. But think of everything that got away, that fled with the last deathbed exhalation of the biographee. What chance would the craftiest biographer stand against the subject who saw him coming and decided to amuse himself ?           — Julian Barnes in Flaubert’s Parrot

There is a persistent curiosity and consideration to explore either partially or fully the remaining oeuvre of a liked writer. In a way that eventually will end up limiting the breadth of our reading. It is the inevitable price that one pays for having a set of  favourite writers. The favourable impressions that I carry of Penelope Lively‘s “Moon Tiger“, led me to her other book “According to Mark“. And here again I was pleasantly surprised with the maturity, subject, command and ease with which Ms.Lively writes

According to Mark” is a slice of life of Mark – a successful biographer by profession. Mark’s current endeavour is to write the biography of the once famous but now forgotten literary figure Gilbert Strong. Strong is an enigmatic figure from the past. He himself is a biographer, travel writer, novelist and essayist. His past is littered with multiple affairs, marriages, professional jealousies and even insinuations of buying out a ghost writer. The need for research leads Mark to Dean Close in Dorset – a sprawling estate once owned by Strong which is currently managed by his grand daughter Carrie. Carrie runs a large and successful plant nursery in a part of Dean Close along with her friend Bill. She is the daughter of Hermione — the reckless, extravagant and pleasure seeking daughter of Strong. Carrie leads Mark to a large mass of critical correspondence that acts as a cornerstone of Mark’s research. Unwittingly Mark gets emotionally and physically involved with Carrie despite his impressions of her being ill read and unsophisticated. Mark starts on a program in collaboration with BBC, to hear and record authentic voices of people who have known and intimately involved with Strong. As he progresses on this venture, Mark meets Major Hammond who also has known Strong as a boy. Hammond’s aunt Irene has had a deep affair with Strong and Hammond hands over a large amount of Strong and Irene’s correspondence to Mark. This reveals a different aspect of Strong’s personality and gradually Mark’s outlook to Strong undergoes a change and starts taking a sympathetic tone tinged with an understanding that irrespective of the quality of research and effort of a biographer..a lot is left outside the bounds of what one can capture… Carrie’s own involvement with Mark and her travels to France along with him open up a new and positive outlook towards the hither to reclusive life she has been leading…. That in sum is the plot of Ms.Lively’sAccording to Mark“. The storyline per se is ordinary, yet I found this book a charming  and an absorbing read and there are reasons for that

Ms.Lively through the book brings a great sensitivity and understanding to the differences in nature, approach, function, and challenges involved in writing novels and biographies. Some of these observations are outstandingly original and deeply insightful. While reading the book I felt that unless one is deeply involved with books and literature these kind of insights are hard to articulate. Consider the following:

‘The novelist has an infinity of choices,’ Mark read.’ He chooses what is to happen, to whom it happens, and in what way he relate what happens. The picture he constructs is complete in its own terms. When he says “This is the story and the whole story’ we must accept it. Perhaps novelists are the only people who tell the truth’……..’The novelist,’ (he read) recounts of as much of what happened as is appropriate or pertinent. He leaves out what is either unnecessary (to the plot and the theme) or what would distract. In other words,the silences of novel are not lies but rejection of the extraneous matter. Only those conversations are reported which are relevant; only those actions that have some bearing on what is going on. The characters presumably, have a whole other life as well, off the pages of the book; they eat and sleep and talk to people who never feature’…………….

‘The biographer does something entirely different. He is aware of the existence of a “true account” of what happened to his subject; everything conspires to conceal this from him. His job is to pursue this so called “truth” — which is itself unattainable. His lies and silences are therefore his areas of failure, the points at which he is obliged to speculate or simply omit. All he can produce is an account which is dependent upon the energy with which he has pursued his researches and the matter in which he has chosen to interpret what he has learned. He is, of course, in his fashion, a historian, and we all no that history can give no final truth”…………..       A problem for the biographer, is this omniscience. We know the narrative sequence. We record our subject’s childhoods and youth with wisdoms of what is to come — we have this god-like advantage that we have over the person of whom we write. The bearded sage who is Strong in the 1950’s lies, for me, across the pinafored child two world wars away. And, in a curious way, this both distances, one from the subject and invites more personal” feelings’

I liked both the story telling and the characters that Ms. Lively has created. Even very peripheral characters like Bill, Diane – Mark’s wife, Susanne the owner of the gallery where Diane works are full of flesh, blood and identity of their own

What I was not convinced in the book are a couple of things. First and foremost is the unrealistic behaviour of these real characters especially that of Diane. Even after she comes to know the affair between Mark and Carrie, she resolves this tresspassing as if it were a one off incident and carries on with her life as if nothing happened — this was a bit hard to believe.

Secondly Mark seem to stumble onto reserach material especially correspondence of Strong quite easily and fortuitously. Existence of that correspondence is believable but availability I am not sure  

Lastly and the most puzzling aspect of the book for me is its title. Going by it one would have expected Mark to be doing the talking. That definitely is not the case… It is Ms.Lively and all her characters who are doing the talking and Mark although sharply delineated is yet another character… so why was it called “According to Mark?“. Given the quality of writing, subject and story telling this is a trivial aspect…          Well, even moon has its marks….

Moon Tiger” and “According to Mark” convince me that Penelope Lively is a writer of outstanding capabilities and that any effort in pursuing her remaining oeuvre will be a rewarding experience

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There was one statement in the book I particulalry liked:

He was thinking of a passage in one of Strong’s essays in which he called books one of the greatest divisive forces in society. Something about being distanced from one’s neighbour as much by what you have both read or not as by circumstances of birth or economic status —A pregnant thought

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