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Thank you to everyone who sent in book reviews. We have selected 4 reviews, which are posted below. Look out for more opportunities to write for “Writer’s Notepad”!
Stay safe, stay busy!
– The Subtledge Team

SELECTED BOOK REVIEWS

(Opinions reflected are those of the writers only and not of Subtledge.)
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Review by Moulika Danak

How do we celebrate, George Orwell, the man of strong opinions and persuading words without talking about ‘Animal Farm’- his 1945 classical satire which finds itself in many lists like ‘Must-reads’, ‘Top Timeless Literature’, ‘100 Best English Language Novels’ and, is also widely brought upon through word-of-mouth recommendation?!

This allegorical novella is beyond a story; it is an insight into George Orwell’s journalistic and critical instincts. He has painted a sinister yet a very real world in a quaint farmyard which takes us on a journey from dystopia to utopia and dystopia again.

While it is well-known that the novella was inspired from the events during and post-Russian Revolution, many other events resonate with it even today.  And it is so because we are taken deeper into the nature of perpetual subjects like revolution, power and corruption. With each page flip, the layers of morals and values come off slowly and naturally. This is one of the many reasons as to why this book speaks so much of human nature.

Orwell lends each of his farm animals a unique personality which resonates with the types of people we must have known or seen. Say, for example, Clover and Boxer – the trustworthy, brave and honest horses who are wise enough to realise what’s going on but not powerful or clever enough to stop it. Then there’s a horse by the name Mollie who is driven by greed and deviates from the revolutionary paths.

The power of communication is another theme that is impactfully underlined in this story. When the humans on Manor farm ruled the animals, there was no substantial exchange of communication. When Napoleon and other pigs took over the farm, they taught themselves how to ‘read and write’ but offered only cursory education to the rest of the animals. This is how they disempowered them by keeping them unlearned. This angle makes a true statement for the system that strategically and deliberately broadens inequality either in terms of access to knowledge, career-building, money-making opportunities and so on.

Yet another example is how the story begins with ‘All animals are equal; but, as it progresses we see that the motto changes to ‘some animals are more equal than others’. When Napoleon and Squealer defeat the original revolutionaries and take leading positions in the farm, they modify the original slogan to suit their ways. With this, they also establish their superiority and rule the rest of the animals on the farm.

This honest and simplest description of hypocrisy marks the void between the promises and deeds of the authority. Another example lies in a quote, “no animal shall kill another animal” which eventually becomes “no animal shall kill another animal without cause”. The Commandments keep getting modified over the course of time and the line of demarcation between superiors and underlings is thickened.

The writing is lucid, precise and brilliant. With each situation, character and plot progression, the story keeps nudging us with the ugly side of power and position. It keeps reminding us how our insatiable greed can wake up the fickle and spiteful shades within the best of us. It also highlights how the weaker, unprivileged class of the society ends us paying for the sake of the ones who are at an advantage.

It is a quick read but its gist will stay with you forever. And so, it will be unfair to not mention at least some of the many intriguing quotes that the book is crafted with:

⤿“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”

⤿“Several of them would have protested if they could have found the right arguments.”

⤿”If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

⤿”Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.”

⤿“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

A Clergyman’s Daughter by George Orwell
Review by Shatarupa Ganguly

This story revolves around the female protagonist, Dorothy Hare, and how she lives under the tyrannical shadow of her father even though she gets the chance to set free from this tedious life. The title itself presents women who lived under the shadows of their partner or father’s image and living according to their rules and regulations. The story takes place in a Suffolk country town called Knype Hill, where the spinster lives and is also believed to be the hometown of Orwell. The story encircles around a typical female character and how her life is mostly engaged in the same repetitive list of chores in the house enslaved to the whims and demands of her misanthropic father, the clergyman of the book’s title, but a sudden turn of events leads her far away from her familiar world.

Dorothy is a hard-working woman who goes up and beyond making sure that everything is running smoothly around the house and even the church which is in dire need of repair. She struggles to raise money, carefully avoiding the growing list of creditors to whom her aloof and pompous priestly father is indebted. Dorothy is an obedient daughter to Rector Hare and tries every means not to upset him. But as you go on reading, you get to know how dictatorial he is to Dorothy and as a whole his attitude is quite snobbish, bullying, cold, and insensitive to the world. He also exerts control on his daughter’s religious ideology which is seen by her deep riveting belief on Christianity to the point where we can witness Dorothy sticking pins in her arms when she senses the slightest hint of doubt in her religious convictions. She also seems to have devout conversations with her Lord, quotes scriptures, and maintains a conscience of the divine God’s will. You can almost feel pity for Dorothy’s dedication as she exhausts herself by tending to her father’s church and holding the entire congregation running.

But all her pious world comes crushing down when she reluctantly accepts the invitation to dinner at Mr. Warburton’s house on the pretext of meeting a great novelist. He was known as Knype Hill’s most dishonorable resident, a middle-aged bachelor who was an unabashed adulterer and atheist. This same man has been trying to seduce Dorothy for a long time as she was a young maiden who also seemed to take pleasure with the attention that Mr. Warburton showered by using suitable words. Her psychological collapse of bearing so much physical and mental pressure results in an episode of amnesia. When Dorothy wakes up nine days later in the middle of the busy streets of London, completely unaware of the scandal regarding her disappearance that was circulating back home in the front pages of a newspaper broadcasting the salacious account of Mrs. Semprill that Dorothy has eloped with Mr. Warburton.

In the following next chapters, we get to face Dorothy’s degrading journey that she undergoes in London comprising homelessness, famishment, landing in a prostitution home, close encounter with deathly situations, and drudgery. While she takes up different jobs with scanty income to live in this unknown city, Dorothy comes across different characters that make her aware of how the world is and how some people take advantage of a lone woman. Like the character of Nobby the lovable rogue, a crew of homeless people, and the grumpy owner of the private school. All these figures are pointed out by the author to bring forth the contemporary issues of education and economy.

Her journey ends where the story began, in the kitchen of the Suffolk rectory, making costumes for the next school play with a pot of glue melting on the stove. The only thing that changes is her loss in faith. She starts to pray for help, for guidance in her Unbelief that has developed, although its presence was from the beginning. Her loss of faith made her think the whole concept of God which we can feel from the very first of the story itself when she punishes herself for having second thoughts on her beliefs. As you can feel her dwindling belief, she makes herself come clean to the fact that life must go on. This inner turmoil doesn’t stop her from going back to the same life and living under the same domineering father.

Though the story has a good start, it ends abruptly without giving much to ponder. But there are various themes that come at play in the book, the most dominant ones that Orwell very craftily presents are economic hardships, women subjugation, and the education system which are mostly prevalent to date. Money is an important factor in the story as we get to see Dorothy doing every kind of meager jobs at home and surviving on whatever money her father gave her, while also taking up odd jobs in London to get through unemployment, poverty, and hunger. Women being subjected to oppression can be discerned by the protagonist who as a single woman had to face various hurdles which ranged from being manoeuvred by Mr. Warburton to facing discrimination when she was not allowed to stay alone in the luxurious hotel that compelled her to get access to a cheap one, later on ultimately leaving her sleeping on the streets. As for the education structure, the capitalistic benefits are seen as a matter of more concern for the administrators than the progress of the children. All these aspects are seen to be pervasive in modern society and seem like they will be the source of writing for many more authors in the coming generations. Orwell made sure whatever he had to say about the various human conditions in his writing put some radiance on the readers, so I would recommend the book as worth reading.

The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre
Review by Nirbhay Mishra

Born in 1905 in Paris and graduated from Ecole Normale Superieure in 1929 Jean-Paul Sartre earned his doctorate in philosophy. One of the champion leaders of the cultural and philosophical movement flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s, namely Existentialism: His work ‘The Age of Reason’ published in 1945; a novel by Jean-Paul Sartre is primarily a work on the idea of ‘Freedom’. Sartre refused Nobel Prize for literature in 1960 and died in 1980. The seminal contribution of the novel lies in its explanation of Freedom.  The identity and uniqueness of the literary work philosophically spring from the idea of ‘Nothingness’. Reviewing Sartre’s scholarly work, a herculean task presupposes a right headed, well-formed, and logical mind. I envision my review on the novel as merely an act of kindling a candle to the Sun. The conceptual replica of the story finds its locus in Sartre’s earlier masterpiece: Being & Nothingness (1943) and the Age of Reason is a fictional reprise of the work.

Age of Reason is the first part of a trilogy of novels – road to freedom series (second; The Reprive and the third; Troubled Sleep). The novel sets in 1938, plots the situation of France around the World War II and represents his main character, Mathieu, a French philosopher passionate with the idea of Freedom. Distressed with his issues concerning his mistress pregnancy, his quest for Freedom goes onto more intense with his carrying frantic attempts to raise money for an abortion. Marcelle is his girlfriend. Ivich is the young student, to whom Mathieu is infatuated with a causal relationship, and in her, he finds his Freedom as he has sexual relations with a young girl (Ivich); this fact is socially reprehensible for a man of his age. The triangularity of the characters and their interrelated emotions: Mathieu, Marcelle and Ivich form the narrative of the fictional novel and expose the bitter realities.

Mathieu feels Inner dissatisfaction. He denies the conventional social morality. He challenges social authority. Mathieu expresses his struggle for identity. He faces a dilemma either to accept the conventional society and settle with Marcelle or to live like a philosopher celebrating the Freedom of choice and enjoying his relations with Ivich. Hence, he makes desperate efforts for the abortion of Marcelle. And he does not accept any social bonding; Marriage as such. Eventually, confronted with the situations and people like Ivich’s friends and his brother Jacques, who made Mathieu, realize what Sartre calls the ‘Bad-Faith’:

You are trying,” said Jacques, “to evade the fact that you’re a bourgeois and ashamed of it. I myself reverted to bourgeoisie after many aberrations and contracted a marriage of convenience with the party, but you are a bourgeois by taste and temperament, and it’s your temperament that’s pushing you into marriage. For you are married, Mathieu,” said he forcibly.

“First, I’ve heard of it,” said Mathieu.

“Oh yes, you are, only you pretend you aren’t because you are possessed by theories. You have fallen into a habit of life with this young woman: you go to see her quietly four days a week, and you spend the night with her. That has been going on for seven years, and there’s no adventure left in it; you respect her, you feel obligations towards her, you don’t want to leave her…Will you tell me how that differs from marriage – except for cohabitation?”

Mathieu finally steals money from Lola, a singer, for the abortion, but when he meets Marcelle, she denies and decides to settle herself marrying an ageing homosexual. It turns the very spirit of the novel as Mathieu realizes the reason that he is alone and nothingness which is like an image remains as representing his Freedom. His breakups with all relations exhibit as he paid the cost of Freedom and his choice that he affords to be alone inside. Before I conclude the review, the following figure fits to make a torchbearer effect on the review:

Matrics of the Age of Reason: Narratives & Characters

Interestingly, the fictional novel ends with Mathieu’s alienation from society. Being insightful in being alone Mathieu shows four major feelings of the time: Freedom, Bad Faith, Individual Existence and distraction from conventional social-morality. A rebellious character, Mathieu,  struggles through and through in uncertainties. But what indeed he fights for and gains in his nothingness is his Being (Freedom) that sets novel’s paradigm-Sartre’s Existential narrative: Being & Nothingness. Nothing matters over and above one’s  Existence and Freedom.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Review by Shweta Walavalkar

This novel published in 1993 is a beautiful work of fiction showing exemplary story telling skills.  The  novel  is  divided  into  19  parts  with  each  part  describing a different aspect through different characters.  It puts some light on various issues including racism, academic affairs, family cultures and ambition.

The story revolves around four families i.e. The Mehra’s, The Kapoor’s, The Khan’s and The Chatterji’s.  The novel begins with a wedding happening in the Mehra family, where the daughter Savita is getting married to Pran Kapoor, the eldest son of the Kapoor family who is a university lecturer. Mrs Rupa Mehra is meanwhile consistently honing her match making skills now by finding a groom for Lata, her youngest daughter, a 19 year old studying English literature.

The book overall describes the three probable grooms for Lata and the evolvement of their stories in detail. It begins with her meeting a boy in college named Kabir Durrani. He approaches her and after a couple of meetings, she begins to develop feelings for him. Soon, she realizes he is a Muslim and her Hindu family will never agree to an alliance. She finds eloping as the only solution and discusses the same with Kabir who disagrees with the same. Lata is extremely heartbroken after that.

The same night, Lata goes to Kolkata with her mother where her brothers Arun and Varun, Meenakshi (Arun’s wife) and their daughter stay. Meenakshi takes Lata to a party at her residence (The Chatterji’s) where she meets Amit (Meenakshi’s elder brother) who is an acclaimed poet. She gets along well with Amit while he also begins to look at her as a prospective bride. But Lata’s mother is not too keen on the alliance since she does not like her daughter in law Meenakshi’s attitude.

Her mother then sets a meeting up with a prospective groom i. e recommended by Lata’s elder sister Haresh who is into shoe business. They begin writing to each other and although there are couple of events creating confusion, she ends up marrying him which is unexpected and throws the reader off the track.

Talking about the mannerisms, the novel seemed to be like a derivative of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, indirectly adapting the act of conversing, behaviour and proposition of love from the classic and it reflects in several conversations, dialect and behaviour of the characters. The flow of the story resembles a lengthy saga wherein although the novel proudly stands as the longest novel of the modern Indian literature and the book keeps you interested in the same. There comes a time when the central character Lata is extremely contradicting the decisions taken by her. Even though the drama revolves around 1950’s, the character although being shown independent and intellectual in the beginning, fades out under unrealistic family pressures. There comes a time, when you begin to feel extremely suppressed after connecting with her. The character is only portrayed as a victim through and through whether it comes to choosing a life partner, voicing her opinion or even defending herself when required. As an outsider, I was deeply struck by the sequences that followed. Also several characters like Maan and Saeeda used amidst portraying the different strata’s of politics, artistic, religious, social are lost somewhere in between.

Overall, the fluidity of the sequences is great since the book keeps you glued but the length of the book is debatable. The author portrays the division of upper and the lower society during that era very effectively and the pace of the story is such that you can almost visualise the characters within. The climax is slightly hurried but nevertheless the characters of the novel definitely take the reader on a rollercoaster for a few days narrating their different stories and portraying vivid shades of human behaviour. The book is lengthy but light at the same time and you can enjoy the ride while it lasts.