Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Hobbit. By J.R.R. Tolkein

The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien

Harper Collins Publishers. First published in 1937. This edition first published 1995.

This is the prequel to the 'Lord of the Rings'. It tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, uncle to Frodo, the hero of LOTR, who is pulled away by Gandalf and a bunch of dwarfs from his comfortable home in the Shire on an adventure to retrieve dwarf gold and jewellery stolen by the dragon Smaug who now lies on the loot and guards it. The book lacks some of the grandeur of LOTR, and also some of the interest. It appears that the book was written for children, none of the adventures are particularly dangerous and all the deaths and killings take place off-stage. There are however several themes and ideas repeated in LOTR, which of course is a more 'adult' book. Most importantly in this context, the magic ring, the 'one ring to bind them all', central to LOTR is first discovered by Bilbo in this book. In the beginning the ring is benign, helping Bilbo escape various dangers, and it's only towards the end that the evil and compelling nature of the ring is described, albeit only briefly. The chief theme of the book is that a very ordinary and almost lazy person, Bilbo, is able to not only achieve a great thing in the end, but also repeatedly play a key role in overcoming some danger or the other. And in the process, Bilbo does not loose his good natured timidness and laziness - he does not transform into a super hero. A nice read. The first few lines are worth quoting:

' In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole and that means comfort.'

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Private Patient. By P.D. James

The Private Patient

P.D. James

Published by Penguin Books, 2008.

A detective story starring Adam Dalgleish, now a senior Inspector, about to marry Emma, and a lot of that relationship comes in, though not germane to the main detective story. There are similar references to a lot of other details about the lives of the various characters, all building up the atmosphere beautifully, though at the end of the story all of it is not tied together, and this left me somewhat mystified as to why these things were described in such detail in the first place. Anyway the book was a great read. PD James is as unlike Agatha Christie as possible, and her solution to the mystery leaves a lot of questions unanswered, one suspects deliberately. I need to read more PD James before I know whether this is her general style, or whether it's only this book.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A Place to Live. Translated from Tamil by Vasantha Surya. Edited by Dilip Kumar

A Place To Live

Contemporary Tamil short fiction. Translated by Vasantha Surya. Edited by Dilip Kumar

Published in 2004 by Penguin Books, India

A collection of Tamil short stories. Most of them deal with themes that are familiar to me. Perhaps therefore the collection is somewhat tedious. There are a few stories that are good. The first one, 'The Chair' by Ki Rajanarayanan was nice, so was 'The Man in the Terylene Shirt' by G. Nagarajan. The last story in the collection 'The Solution' by the editor, Dilip Kumar was also nice. Another that I liked is 'Curry Leaf' by Vimaladhitha Maamallan. These few I remember, specifically. Others were OK, but maybe they would be better in Tamil. In the translation, though Vasantha Surya does try, they all seem to be written by the same author, at least as far as the language is concerned, though the themes are different.

Mike At Wrykyn. By P.G. Wodehouse

Mike At Wrykyn

P.G. Wodehouse

Originally published in 1910 or thereabouts, I read the Penguin paperback edition published more recently (about 1990)

This , in my opinion, is a transition book for PGW, when he started to move from tales for schoolboys (The Golden Bat, A Prefect's Uncle, etc.) to stories for adults. He has not yet made the transition in this book, and the tale about Mike Jackson, a cricket prodigy like Sachin Tendulkar, is still meant mainly for British schoolboys. But all the same, it is well worth reading, many times, as I have done, especially if you are a cricket fan - there are at least three lovely matches described. In the follow-up to this book (Mike and Psmith), Mike gets taken out from Wrykyn due to bad marks in his lessons and sent to another school, which is not so keen on cricket. It is here that he meets Psmith, who is the first fully 'great' character created by PGW, a forerunner of Galahad, Uncle Fred and maybe even Jeeves.

PS I read this book about a month ago, and have read another book since, so this and the next post come together.