Ahad, 26 Januari 2014

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

The Invention Of Wings

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

FROM the opening words that place 10-year-old Hetty, a slave girl whose mama calls her Handful, in the courtyard of a Charleston plantation, The Invention Of Wings tells a story of strength, sorrow and shame.

For Handful is presented as a birthday gift to one of the many children of the South Carolina estate, Sarah Grimke, to mark her 11th birthday. One child being given another – shameful.

But Sue Monk Kidd's deft writing takes us into the hearts and minds of both of these girls immediately, as Sarah tells her mother she has no need to own a slave.

"I was sent to solitary confinement in my new room and ordered to write a letter of apology to each guest. Mother settled me at the desk with paper, inkwell and a letter she'd composed herself, which I was to copy."

From that first act of rebellion, Kidd shows readers that Sarah strains against the mould forced on young women of American Southern aristocracy. She reads voraciously, abetted in the early years by her father. But once she is caught teaching Hetty to read, her father decides he's doing his wilful daughter no favours and forbids her from his vast library.

While Sarah is going through her own growing pains, Handful must live under the control of her owners. She has only her mother, Charlotte (who Handful calls Mauma) to turn to – and Charlotte is as wilful as Sarah.

Charlotte tells Sarah early on that she must help Handful to freedom, and Charlotte fights against her slavery as best she can. She steals, fakes an injury when it aids her and never lets Handful forget that they are human beings who deserve freedom.

As Sarah and Handful grow to adulthood, they fight different battles while remaining committed to similar goals – Sarah wants freedom for all slaves, and Handful wants freedom for herself and Mauma.

Kidd weaves a fascinating story, for Sarah Grimke and her sister, Nina, were real women of the early 1800s who became the first female abolition agents. And Handful also existed – a young slave named Hetty given to Sarah.

But the rich and complex relationship between Sarah and Handful is the author's creation, and a masterful one. They become friends, of sorts, but Handful resents her position and Sarah – despite her pure intentions – was reared with a sense of entitlement and wealth that are hard to shake.

Kidd, best known for The Secret Life Of Bees, also creates the rich love between Mauma and Handful. Mauma vanishes from the plantation when Handful is 19, leaving Handful unsettled at not knowing her fate. The love between these two women is palpable; you share Handful's sense of loss.

Most of this book is about Sarah, Nina and Handful. A few men play important but small roles. But this beautiful and ultimately uplifting book is about women and their fight to be heard.

No wonder media mogul Oprah Winfrey picked The Invention Of Wings for her book club. It's a most deserving choice. – St Louis Post-Dispatch/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The Gods Of Guilt

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

FEW writers can hook in readers from the start like Michael Connelly. Give me five minutes with a new Connelly novel and that's pretty much it. None of the slow burn, pull you in gently stuff; it's in with a bang and where did my weekend go?

Connelly is a master of many things and, less dramatically, consistency is one of them. I have yet to read a bad novel by the multi-award winning American and I have a feeling I never will. For many of us he is the ultimately professional writer and surely every publisher's dream – one or two books a year that never drop in quality or appeal. Or presumably success. Which is why the arrival of a new novel is always a source of celebration in our household because we know that a good read is pretty much guaranteed.

The Gods Of Guilt starts with a twist. Mickey Haller – for this is a Lincoln Lawyer novel not a Harry Bosch one – is in court defending another of the lowlifes on whom his practice and income depends. Things are not going well until Haller pulls one of his most devious defence tricks. It's startling, dramatic and underhand – in other words, it's typical Haller. But it is just the warm-up act for what follows after he gets a text from his ex-wife Lorna, now his general factotum. It reads, "Call me ASAP – 187".

That number is the California penal code number for murder and murder cases are appealing because, as Haller explains, "to defend a murder suspect you had to be at the very top of your game. To get a murder case you had to have a certain reputation that put you at the top of the game. And in addition to all that there was the money.... You get a murder case with a paying customer and you likely make your whole nut for the year."

And things look very good when the suspect in this particular killing offers to pay in gold, and sends a chunk of it to pay all of his initial expenses in advance. Andre La Cosse is a digital pimp, that is, he runs a website on which escorts can advertise their trade. The deal is straightforward: La Cosse keeps them looking good on the website and then collects a percentage when the advertising attracts a client.

That was what he was doing when he went to collect his dues from Giselle Dallinger. According to la Cosse, Giselle claimed that she went to the hotel room as instructed but there was no one there. La Cosse did not believe her and a row ensued. La Cosse admits grabbing Giselle by the throat but strenuously denies killing her. From a defence point of view this does not look good. But Haller comes to believe that La Cosse, unsavoury character though he might be, is innocent.

He also learns that the victim was a former client of his, then known as Gloria Dayton. The two had a close bond and Haller tried, in vain as it turns out, to turn her away from escort life. Now the stakes have suddenly been upped by the addition of a personal involvement.

Haller's defence takes time to build and it is not long before a host of subsidiary characters are introduced, some villainous, some not. One I particularly enjoyed was Legal Siegal, Haller's mentor now in a nursing home that tries to control his diet and lifestyle, a restriction that Haller does his best to subvert by bringing in such luxuries as French dip from Philippe the Original secreted in his briefcase. It is to Siegal he turns when needing advice on the strategy behind a case and when needing some support after a criminal for whom he gained an acquittal killed two people in a driving incident. That had cost him the love and respect of his daughter.

Connelly explores the moral issues of being a defence lawyer with some subtlety. Haller's clientele are by and large lowlifes and many are clearly guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. Yet as Legal Siegal reminds him, it is the bedrock of the legal system that everyone is entitled to a proper defence – Mickey is just doing his job. Haller is unconvinced: "People died and it's on me, Legal. You can't hide behind just doing your job when two people get creamed at an intersection by the guy you set free."

The Gods Of Guilt of the title are the jury who return a verdict and, "Those I have loved and those I have hurt. Those who bless me and those who haunt me". Mickey Haller, tough nut though he is, has his own ghosts and they add depth and complexity to a wonderful character creation in yet another excellent Connelly thriller.


Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

CREATORS of popular television have often invoked comparisons with written fiction: Dennis Potter and Steve Bochco both used the term "TV novel" to describe series such as Potter's The Singing Detective and Bochco's LA Law and NYPD Blue. Both screenwriters also published novels, and this switchover tradition continues with J.J. Abrams, the power behind Alias and Lost.

Perhaps surprisingly, writers who rethought the structures of television often became reverentially conventional on the page: Potter's Ticket To Ride and Bochco's Death By Hollywood had impressive plot and dialogue, as you might expect, but an Edwardian reader would be at ease with the novels' approach to narrative and chapters.

Abrams, though, has come up with a novel of such structural daring that the first task of the audience is to work out a way of reading it. And I say "come up with", rather than "written", because one of the conventions challenged is that of authorship. On programmes such as Lost and Alias, Abrams operated as what American TV calls a "showrunner", overseeing every decision and episode but not writing every episode himself. With S., Abrams is a sort of "novelrunner", having conceived the project but left the prose to someone else: Doug Dorst, a US novelist and creative writing tutor.

You suspect that this collaboration with Abrams must have taught Dorst a few things about the nature and creation of fiction. The finished product consists of a shrinkwrapped package that – perhaps fittingly – resembles a TV boxset. Inside is what looks like an old library book, complete with shelf code and date stamps of its borrowing history. This book is Ship Of Theseus, the 19th and final novel of an author called V.M. Straka, which has been translated with copious footnotes by someone called F.X. Caldeira.

The latter's preface claims that Straka was "one of the most idiosyncratic and influential" authors of the first half of the 20th century. Almost nothing is known about him, and his elusive identity, Caldeira rather grumpily records, has led to an "authorship controversy", somewhat akin to the Shakespearean one, with rival academic camps supporting different candidates. Noting this plot‑seeding catalogue, the Abrams fan thinks of the pilot episode of Lost in which almost everything said by a survivor of the plane crashed on the desert island seemed to open up a mystery.

We are, however, already not wholly concentrating on Caldeira, because the book, though otherwise a library hardback realistically battered and yellowed over six decades, has startlingly wide margins. These accommodate, on almost every page, scribbled handwritten comments that alternate between the lower-case scrawl of a woman called Jen and the neat capitalised writing of a man by the name of Eric. Both are obsessives of the Straka literary mystery, and are taking Ship Of Theseus in turn out of the stacks of the library of Pollard State University and conducting an analogue equivalent of e-mail in the white space on the pages.

So, by now, we have two other readers in the book with us, but possibly only one author: Jen's and Eric's marginalia tell us that some researchers suspect that Caldeira the translator may in fact be Straka the novelist, or possibly vice versa. We also learn that unscrupulous academics are competing to publish a solution to the Straka mystery and that, as they bicker, cooperate and share their life stories at the edges of the disputed text, Jen and Eric are falling rather touchingly in love. Plus, like ad-break cliffhangers in a TV episode, we keep finding between the pages, apparently at random, cuttings from a college magazine and faded Spanish newspapers, postcards, letters, essay notes and, at one point, a map drawn on a napkin from the Pollard State canteen.

Although an electronic edition has been released, the book should clearly be experienced in its physical form, which is one of the most staggering feats of book production I have ever seen. Indeed, Abrams's major contribution to the project is to have come up the antihistorical concept of an analogue interactive book.

Such is the suspicion raised in the reader by the book's many tricks that the idea rapidly takes hold that "Doug Dorst" is actually Abrams, making a novel-writing debut under protective cover. But, unless his Google footprint is an elaborate hoax, Dorst is real, though the prose is perhaps the weakest part of the concept.

In literary terms, S. resembles a mash-up of Nabokov's 1962 novel Pale Fire, which consists of a fake literary text with critical apparatus, and A.S. Byatt's 1990 Booker prize winner, Possession, in which academics compete to solve a literary mystery. But Abrams and Dorst are, in effect, asking us to read both of those books simultaneously while puzzles keep dropping on to our knees. Even the most dedicated book lover becomes a learner reader, having to decide in which order and with what frequency to read the paragraphs and margins.

Related story:
From J.J. Abrams to readers, mystery wrapped in romance

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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