The Rules of Magic – Alice Hoffman

“Anything whole can be broken,” Isabelle told her. “And anything broken can be put back together again.” That is the meaning of Abracadabra. “I create what i speak.”

If you have read Alice Hoffman (as i have – all of them), when you pick up the book you know that next few hours / days (depending on your reading speed) are going to find you in the middle of an absolutely engrossing story, full of magic and witches and curses and some spells that you wish worked in real life (i tried the ones with only chanting – nah it is truly fiction alas!)

The latest book by Alice Hoffman is a prequel to one of my favourite book “Practical Magic” and gives a detailed insight into the lives and dramas of the two doddering aunts, who sounded scary and as if they were always grey and old, and transforms them into young, partially hedonistic, full of life characters.

This family has two girls – Franny and Jet and a boy – Vincent, who are born with magical abilities due to their bloodline, however, mother has decided to keep distance from the “family” and impose rules to postpone the discovery of such talents and affinities for a while – no red shoes, no black clothes, etc etc. Well these magical talents aren’t really meant for getting the house chores done by wave of a wand, but more into being able to read minds (Jet), extreme charisma and ability to see future (Vincent) and ability to talk to / understand birds (Franny).

Children being children obviously want what is forbidden to them. They are curious and chafing against the mother’s rules. When Franny turns seventeen, she gets an invitation from the “family” or “aunt Isabella”. Though parents are not happy, children are grown enough to have an opinion – and they set out to discover the mysteries of their inheritance. The house Magnolia street is mystical and yet restful and the summer passes in a bliss for all three. They learn the history of their bloodline, meet a cousin they have never met before (April) and find out what trials and tribulations are the fate of witches and wizards – loneliness, inability to fit in, being stared at and even feared and not being able to drown.

Jet falls in love with a neighbour boy, who turns out to be from the enemy camp due to an age old curse, which proclaimed that any person from Owens tribe – who falls in love, will cause misfortune and death of the ones they love. Jet discovers the truth behind this curse by losing her beloved and her parents in an accident and Franny decides to give up her love to save him and herself from heartbreak. Aunt Isabella finally provides the words of wisdom near her death by telling Franny to Love more not less to beat the curse.

Post accident. all three – Franny, Jet and Vincent have to grow up within a short span of time, find a way to make money and find a purpose to their lives. Jet lives her entire life devoted to her one and only love – her devotion finally wins over the enemy and reconciliation happens slowly. Franny discovers that it is far easier to fall in love than to give it up and that too to another woman. Hay, her childhood friend, confidant and lover finally gives up the idea of marriage and accepts Franny for whoever she is – curse or no curse.

Vincent, however is complicated. He is a profilgate drowning himself in drugs and alcohol provided for by his musical talents. He discovers true love with another man and hence unlocks the dilemma of not being able to fall in love with numerous women he had affairs with. War happens – well, the normal world is still normal around all the magic and wizardry, and Franny in her determination to save Vincent, gets Hay to provide a forged certificate declaring Vincent medically inept for military service.

Vincent’s interview does not go as smoothly and he finds himself in a mental asylum, from where he is rescued and shipped across the world with only occasional postcards and chocolates to make his presence felt. April, on the other hand has a baby girl fathered by Vincent and gets education and a job to provide for the child.

The ending of the book is what connects it to the sequel (which was released years and years before) where Regina (April’s daughter) dies with her husband, leaving two little girls behind – Sally and Gillian. Sally the elder and practical one calls the two aunt, now old ladies, and tells them that they need to be taken in.

As we know, Practical magic is the tale of the two little girls – Sally and Gillian. In their story, the aunts are at the twilight of their lives and yet a solid presence for them.

Alice Hoffman, in her usual style is able to make this fantasy tale flawlessly believable, so much so that, it becomes easy for a reader to believe that maybe – just a bit maybe, one of the love potions made by aunt Isabella is real and will work, the soap they make in their cauldron can be made and will keep the skin, in reality, as young as it did in the novel. Story line is fast paced and yet characters are evolved, making it possible for a reader to imagine them as they must have been.

Believe it or not, i did try to make my boss vanish the next day – but alas, it didn’t work.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

“I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them”

Eleanor Oliphant at the beginning of the book reminded me a lot of “Sheldon Cooper” from The Big Bang Theory. Everyday behaviour which we take for granted was a complete mystery and more often than not, waste of time for her. She is earnest, straight forward and a riot. The dry humour – very British, is an absolute delight to read. Ms Oliphant is proper and very literal and yet intriguing in her own way.

Eleanor Oliphant is a finance executive in a graphic designing company and in love (recently) with a musician in a band – though this musician in question has never met her. Raymond from IT and Eleanor are thrown together when they rescue an old man Sammy (seventy years old) and visit him together at the hospital – and our very dear Eleanor buys him amongst other things, a playboy magazine since she thinks as a man he might enjoy it. Raymond invites her to visit his mother and spontaneously she agrees.

What is most interesting to read is how Eleanor discovers different emotions, which somehow have been neglected in her life so far. During her visit to Raymond’s mother, she discovers the warm feeling a well-kept house, a loving mother and home cooked food gives – the things that most of us take for granted as our right. She starts having lunch with Raymond fairly regularly, though still perturbed about his posture, social habits and dressing.

Once Eleanor realises that the musician she imagines she is in love with and will be the one to fix everything in her life – is only an illusion, a mere crush, she spirals downward quickly and we find her drunk and ready to commit suicide. Raymond rescues her and makes her consult a doctor, who in turn sends Eleanor to a psychiatrist.

Though the reader is introduced to weekly Wednesday night calls from Eleanor’s “mummy” from the onset, the complicated relation they share is revealed gradually via the counseling sessions. The childhood trauma she went through, the abuse – both physical and emotional, suffered at the hand of her own mother, inability to fit into foster care and being shuffled from one home to another, her scare of dark and her nightmare, all leading to her remembering the fire which was deliberately set by her mother to get rid of her children and in which her younger sister died, is uncovered.

This book really is a Eleanor’s journey from a lonely, socially unfit person to finding her strength, making friends, discovering emotions and revealing her own personality – which is not influenced by her mother or her voice is what makes it so unique. Eleanor’s very proper and correct English – none of these modern slangs, keeps the book light, till the very end, but it is a very touching, very deep and in its own way a melancholic book. It is also a validation of the fact that it’s almost impossible to understand someone else’s life and hence judgements are only the weapon of feeble-minded.

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. a fearful. incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”

By the way, if at any time, i told my hair dresser ” might next week be suitable for you to effect a change of hairstyle” i think i will be looking for a new one 🙂

1Q84 – Murakami

“It is not that the meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”

What a beautiful, beautiful book – absolutely mesmerising. This 1300 plus pages tome is yet the best by Murakami. The title intrigued me, when i saw it at the airport and synopsis at the back cover was enough to convince me that this is not any ordinary story. It is so enriching a book, so full of imagination, an allegorical tale of two people, two worlds, two thoughts, so intertwined and yet so simple. Magnificent falls short of trying to describe the two moons that are so central to the storyline. Trust me, i am not exaggerating. It is a long long book and yet i am sad, now that i have reached the end.

A lonely boy and a lonely girl of age ten are in the same school. For two years they are in the same grade as well. Their childhoods are different and yet similar, leading the boy to be kind to the girl and the girl to fall in love with the boy. Not much interaction is required and yet girl once finds an opportunity to hold the boy’s hand and convey her deep intense feelings. By the time boy realises that something important has transpired in that short interaction, girl leaves the school and their paths don’t cross for the next twenty years. This story revolves around how the world, or perhaps i should say worlds, makes it possible for them to find each other after twenty years of longing for that simple innocent touch. Some things are destined to be.

Aomame, a professional trainer is also a proficient murderer, though her killing is limited to abusive men who has brutalised women. While on one such murdering assignments, to avoid a traffic jam, she finds herself climbing down rickety stairs from an expressway and finds herself transported from the year 1984 to 1Q84. 1Q84 is a strange world, where illogical is the only way and the sky has two moons. Reader also encounter the boy, Tengo in this world, ghostwriting a fantasy novella “Air Chrysalis” for a seventeen year old girl Fuka-Eri, as encouraged by the editor Komatsu.

The book or the fantasy storyline of the book is the epicentre, so to say, around which the lives of these handful of characters in this book revolves. This award winning, bestseller book “Air Chrysalis” changes the lives of all around it. Initially believed to be a fiction, Tengo over a period of anxious, troubling and intense times comes to understand, is actually real. “Little People” in reality weave air chrysalis from the threads of the air to create an alter ego of a person. The first person whose alter ego or “Dohta” is created is none other than Fuka-Eri herself.

Fuka-Eri while living with her parents on a sort of a commune, of which her father is the Leader, becomes the perceiver who provides a gateway to these Little People. Once her father becomes the receiver – who hears the voices, Fuka-Eri runs away (or becomes the opposing force for the Little People, hence the destroyer as well) at the age of ten and is brought up by her fathers best friend.

Once the book is published and read by people, the voices stop – as explained by the author – it leads to rise in opposing forces against Little People. At the same time, Aomame, via her patron, student and friend – the dowager, is assigned to kill the Leader, for the atrocities committed against young girls.

The Leader is killed, Aomame is in hiding, Fuka-Eri’s role comes to an end and now the commune or the society is hunting for Aomame. This is when a private investigator finds the connection between Tengo and Aomame and decides to stakeout at Tengo’s apartment, in the hope that Aomame will come to meet him. Its almost as if the whole world is working, moving, changing itself to bring Aomame and Tengo together.

In the end Aomame and Tengo do meet each other and manage to climb out of the 1Q94 to 1994 and are finally together.

It is a fantastical book and the writing is so rich that i actually took an unplanned day off work to finish it without putting it down. The characters are deeply mesmerising – their evolution, their struggles, their needs laid out bare to the reader to analyse and feel. These are not complicated people who find themselves in a different world but simple everyday lives, suddenly living through the struggles of a world of Little People, transported to a world where a man having sex with a conduit could make the woman he loves pregnant and yet, they both are absolutely sure in their hearts and mind that it is their child and not some unrealistic phenomenon.

As the author aptly says “if you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation”

I am looking forward to reading this book again!