The Bell by Iris Murdoch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Murdoch shows us how to combine philosophical questions with readable fiction. Love and religion, two subjects that when combined often leave both author and reader disappointed, are brilliantly dealt with in this 1950s, middle-class England story. There are no cringe-worthy moments, no point at which you find a philosophical argument uncomfortably shoe-horned into the story, this is a seamless piece of writing.
Some people think too much, others not enough and so it is with the characters in the novel. Those who think are slow to act, and when they do act impulsively it creates problems. Dora Greenfield, one of the main protagonists in the novel, rarely thinks until it is too late, and her actions help bring about the implosion of the small lay community at Imber.
Both hetero- and homo-sexual love are treated with care and tenderness, which considering the novel was written in the 1950s when homosexuality was illegal in Britain (though the Wolfenden report of 1957 had set the ball rolling along the decriminalisation path)makes the philosophical argument about love all the more poignant and meaningful.
The symbolism of the delicate butterfly which Dora rescues and sets free near the beginning of the novel encapsulates the argument for and about love. The bell rings in the changes - out with the old, in with the new - although for some the pattern is repeating albeit in different hues and places. This is a perfectly balanced piece of writing, neither contrived nor muddled though the philosophical questions remain.
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Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is a lot of things all rolled into one (and at over 900 pages there is space for that): a gangster story, a detective story, a post-colonial look at India, an Indian's view of the different castes, religions and sects found in India and Pakistan, a commentary on the creation of Pakistan and a history lesson; then again it is not completely any of the above.
I took my time reading it, and the form in which it is written lends itself to that, it is easily 'put-down and pick-up-able'. The different strands of story are neatly woven together, but I have to admit to a slight disappointment with the ending, which with its insets was just too neat for my liking.
The different narrative p.o.v.s all seemed to have the same voice, there really wasn't much to separate the different characters other than the events occurring to them...I wanted to love this book, but could only like it. Perhaps a second reading will show me things I missed the first time, but my wrist needs a rest from holding up this weighty tome. Sometimes, less is more.
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