Review: Em and the Big Hoom || Jerry Pinto

Author: Jerry Pinto
Genre: Contemporary/Literary fiction
No. of Pages: 240
Publisher/Imprint: Aleph book company
Published on: February 12, 2013
My Rating : ★★★★★/5 (5)
Format in which I read: Paperback

Set in Bombay during the last decades of the twentieth century, Em and The Big Hoom tells the compelling story of the Mendeses mother, father, daughter and son. Between Em, the beedi – smoking, hyperactive mother, driven frequently to hospital by her mania and failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the rock-solid, dependable father, trying to hold things together as best he can, they are an extraordinary family.

Filled with endearing and eccentric characters, and marked by sparkling dialogue and restrained emotion, this is one of the most powerful and moving novels to be published in India in a long time. 

Review

If I had to describe this book in the barest sense, I’d say this is an account of the life of a family where the lady of the household is severely mentally ill, presented through lush writing, which is a delight to read; but then I wouldn’t be doing justice to the book by saying just that because Em and the Big Hoom was so much more.

Narrated through the eyes of the son who remains unnamed, this account comprises, not just of his own memories and experiences with Imelda aka Em but we also get glimpses of Em and Augustine – The Big Hoom’s life before they were married and before she was afflicted by her illness (which is not pinpointed but rather hinted at to be a cocktail of post-partum depression/manic depression/Bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia). Letting the reader in on Em’s past was a brilliant touch, because the Em we get to see in the present is depressed, suicidal, manic, witty in a caustic, corrosive way, mean, and just plain nasty. She swears in front her children, she says the damndest things, things you wouldn’t expect to hear from a middle-aged, Roman Catholic mother of two. You don’t know which part of it is her and which part is her illness. I thought the fact that we see the narrator also struggling to differentiate his mother from her illness at several instances was important.


“Victories evanesce quickly enough. Failure hangs around you like a cloak and everyone is kind and pretends not to see it.
Not Em.”

In fact, this entire book is his pursuit to unravel the mystery that is Em. He tries to talk to her about her past, scrambles to find any writings he could find from that time: her annotations in old books, her diary entries, her letters to various people including Augustine aka The Big Hoom…He never stops searching for the woman whom she was before the illness struck and also the triggers that could have possibly caused her illness to strike. Then again, mental illness is not such a cut and dry thing, is it? It does not manifest itself suddenly like….I don’t know, the common cold. The narrator would learn that the hard way.


“I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to deal with the world. It seemed too big and demanding and there wasn’t a fixed syllabus.”

Em and Augustine may be the titular characters but the narrative also offers a peek into how an average middle class Roman Catholic family lived in Bombay in the late-20th century. There were glimpses of how the typical Goan RC society operated at that time, which was entirely new to me; I found that part of it refreshing. I think in almost all the books I’ve read with mental illness at its core, the story was narrated through the affected person themselves. Never have I ever read an outside perspective on how it is to live with someone who is affected, and how damaging it can be when the said person is your own mother. Although the narrator spends much time trying to explore Em’s past and connect the dots to her present, we also get to see his own insecurities, rage, grief, and anxieties. Not just that, we also get snatches of his sister Susan, and the father The Big Hoom’s personalities. Despite the limited scope of the first-person POV and the small size of the book, I felt like the characters we were presented with were well-rounded. Kudos to Jerry Pinto for pulling that off.


“There was something capricious about God. How could one expect perfect submission from those who are imperfect? How could one create desire and then expect everyone to pull the plug on it? And if God were capricious, then God was imperfect. If God were imperfect, God was not God.”

The writing itself deserves a special mention: I can’t remember the last time I highlighted so many lines in a book! It was lush, lyrical, beautiful, real, and just absolute delight of a prose. It kept me turning the pages, ravenous for more. The narrator is one of most relatable and real characters I’ve read in the recent times. Notably, I also found some of Em’s ravings….I mean, opinions highly relatable. I’ll let you be the judge of what to make of that. 😀


“I didn’t go to bookshops to buy. That’s a little bourgeois. I went because they were civilized places. It made me happy there were people who sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote and there were other people who devoted their lives to making those words into books. It was lovely. Like standing in the middle of civilization.”

A word of caution, this book contains some mildly graphic details of Em’s suicide attempts.

As of now, I’m unable to think of anything that I didn’t like about the book, so I’m giving it 5 stars. If you’ve read this and felt differently about it, I’d love to discuss! 🙂

~Mathangi.

My Year in Books: 2018 edition

Another year gone by so fast it could have overtaken the Flash! (and the award for the worst blog opening line ever goes to….me *facepalm* )

No matter how fast or slow years go, I do my thing at the same speed. 😀 As if to prove that, I was able to read only 51 books in 2018. When I look back at them, I’ve read many books that I’ve always wanted to and found some favorites. I surely think I could have read more had I reduced my time on social media. Something to work on in 2019, eh? Continuing the tradition from 2017, I’m adding my reading highlights for 2018 too!


TOTALS
I read 13,591 pages across 51 books

 SHORTEST BOOK
12 pages
Marvel’s Jessica Jones
by Brian Michael Bendis
My Rating: 3 Stars.
This little comic will help you get a head start into the world of Jessica Jones but does little else. I’d suggest you read this and watch the TV series to get a better idea as to who Jessica is and what she does.

LONGEST BOOK
539 pages
Journey Under the Midnight Sun
by Keigo Higashino
My Rating: 4 Stars.
I loved this book! See my full review here

My most popular read turned out to be Mockingjay – well, I’m glad I finished it this year because I had DNF’d this book in 2017 and I really didn’t want to leave the series unfinished. After all, I had loved the first two books!

I finally read The Hate U Give this year! I didn’t enjoy it as much as others have, but I’m glad I finally read it.
Looks like my average rating for 2018 is the same as 2017. 😐 I don’t know why it never goes beyond 3.6, at this rate my goodreads average rating will never improve.

There you have it. That was my highlights. I’ll add the full list below, it’s not very long. 🙂

I hope you had a really good reading year too! Happy New Year 2019! 🙂

~ Mathangi.

Review: Newcomer || Keigo Higashino

Author: Keigo Higashino
Genre: Detective fiction/Mystery
No. of Pages: 320
Publisher/Imprint: Minotaur Books
Published on: November 20, 2018
My Rating : ★★★★.5/5 (4.5)
Format in which I read: Kindle - Netgalley copy
synopsis

Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department has just been transferred to a new precinct in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Newly arrived, but with a great deal of experience, Kaga is promptly assigned to the team investigating the murder of a woman. But the more he investigates, the greater number of potential suspects emerges. It isn’t long before it seems nearly all the people living and working in the business district of Nihonbashi have a motive for murder. To prevent the murderer from eluding justice, Kaga must unravel all the secrets surrounding a complicated life. Buried somewhere in the woman’s past, in her family history, and the last few days of her life is the clue that will lead to the murderer.

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Here’s the thing, I like mysteries.I like books with complex, confusing mysteries that challenge your brain and I like books with cold-blooded psychopaths too, but what I love are books that touch both your heart and brain. That’s where Keigo Higashino shines. Not only does he give you the technical, sometimes even scientific details of the crimes, but he also gives you a peek, a perspective into the psyche of the killer. The best part is, his perpetrators are not serial killers with nefarious schemes and bizarre reasons but are normal, everyday people like you and me. Most of the time, the murders are not even pre-meditated. You either end up feeling bad for the killer or learn something about the victim that gives a whole new outlook to the crime.I suppose that explains why I hunted down every single translated book of his available and devoured them without ado. 😀 The first book I read (and loved) was Malice, which was, incidentally, also a Kyoichiro Kaga mystery.

newcomer edit

So, last year when I saw that Newcomer was coming out in 2018, I literally jumped for joy. And when Netgalley approved my review request? I swear, a part of my soul left my body and reached heaven…

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Coming back to the book, Newcomer is written in typical Higashino style, focusing on the characters rather than the crime itself. I understand a lot of Asian crime literature has a reputation for being dark but Higashino’s crime fiction breaks that stereotype refreshingly.
He takes us to the heart of the story and the characters involved without indulging in the grisly details of the crime itself. He makes sure we get closure, of course, but along the way, we learn also something about human nature.

Newcomer is divided into 9 chapters, each one dedicated to a set of characters who are seemingly unconnected to the crime, but they all live in and around the area where the murder takes place. The book follows Kaga, who’s been recently transferred to Nihonbashi, while he goes around the area, investigating these people and uncovers little details about their everyday routine, their afflictions, their way of life, etc. His investigation method is almost Sherlockian in nature and I loved how even insignificant details started making sense when pieced together.I compare Kaga to Holmes but unlike Conan Doyle, Higashino loves his character and it shows; because in my opinion, Newcomer is more about Kaga than the crime itself. Not just about his detective prowess, but his compassionate approach to crime solving and how he looks at the big picture – at all the people involved, instead of just considering the crime as a puzzle to be solved or mere police duty.

Why do I think that? because the murder itself was quite a simple one. It isn’t hard to guess who the killer or what the motive might be if one followed the crumbs the author has dropped throughout the book. That isn’t the case in many of Higashino’s mysteries: he likes to keep us guessing until the end, either about the motive or how the crime was done. I didn’t sense much of that in this book. Hey, I’m not complaining because I loved every minute of it!

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whatididntlike

There wasn’t much I didn’t like about the book, except for the use of archaic idioms like ‘bygones be bygones’ that popped up every now and then. Really, no one talks like that anymore! I swear I got flashbacks to my middle school English classes every time I saw one of those. I guess this is more of a note to the translator than the author – and maybe I’m being nit-picky here, but I feel little things like this are very avoidable and looking into it will definitely improve the readability and flow of the book as a whole. Other than that, the book was crisp and paced well enough to keep me turning the pages.One other thing that bothered me was the way Kaga disclosed details of the crime to the people he investigates. It is justified in the book but even then I don’t think that’s acceptable somehow?!

That brings me to this: WHY was Kaga demoted to a smaller precinct? because last I remember from Malice, he was kicking ass in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police department, had a sharp side-kick with whom he could discuss the case-related details. There’s an off-handed mention about a case that got him demoted but I’m bursting out of my skin to know all the details!!

Sigh, this is what happens when there are like 10 books in a series and only two get translated and those two are not even consecutive books! Am I gonna have to learn Japanese just to know what happened? 😦 So. Many. Questions. This book has left me yearning for more Kaga mysteries or just about any new Higashino book. Wouldn’t be amiss to say Kaga has cemented himself as one of my favourite fictional detectives. 🙂

My verdict? Newcomer is a must read if you like mysteries with smart, suave detectives, without much graphic crime sequences.

The book fairies at St. Martin’s Press have all my thanks and love for allowing me to read this book via Netgalley. :’)blog divider 3

~ Mathangi.

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