This month, I am in Goa, watching the rain come down. There are stormy skies and cool breezes, and it is perfect, absolutely perfect reading weather. Which is why I read one-and-a-half sports books for you, dear reader, even though the Organised Sport genre bores me to tears. Early on in Nick Hornby’s football classic Fever Pitch , I was yawning so hard I almost dislocated my jaw.
Here is my takeaway: Life is too short and there are too many good books in this world to bother ploughing through something that refuses to hold your interest. Move on and abandon it with, well, abandon.
This month’s theme is privilege — rich desi kids, small-town hockey players, and rich young people in post-war England. Privilege is irritating and dangerous in real life, but so much fun to read about.
Goodbye Freddie Mercury , by Pakistani-American novelist Nadia Akbar, is a book I just tore through in two sittings. The book is told from two points of view: Nida, who is mourning her dead brother, is sucked into the drug-fuelled underbelly of Lahore’s ritzy upper class when she starts to date a powerful man’s son, and Bugsy, a radio jockey who also moves with the same crowd, and fighting his own demons. But just when you think it is descending into Crazy Rich Asians territory, there is a suicide bomber and a political party trying to get ahead. These subplots are not fleshed out as well as the loneliness of the main characters in a city that is always buzzing.
Nida just about escapes being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, thanks to her own first-person narrative, but there’s nothing in Bugsy’s descriptions of her that shows her as an actual flesh-and-blood person. For instance, she is described twice as resembling an anime character. Nida’s interactions with Bugsy seem like a foil for her to say something wise to him and for him to reflect that he has never met anyone like her before. (Also, unforgivably, he refers to Josephine March of my best-beloved Little Women as Joe March, like her name was Joseph or something, but by then I was enjoying the book so much, I put it down to a typo.)
I loved the novel for being a story about what happens when you’re sucked into a world that everyone seems to aspire to and how you handle the inevitable fallout.
Unpopular opinion: I thought A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman was kind of twee. And cloying. It is a beloved book, and the author is very well known, but I couldn’t help thinking it was almost too Up , the Pixar movie where a grumpy old man learns to laugh again.
Anyway, I read Beartown , his novel about ice hockey in a small Swedish town because I wanted to understand team sport, because the World Cup is on, and I’ve been intermittently watching it, because I very much enjoy the TV show Friday Night Lights, which is about American football. I wanted to recommend a book that would convey the spirit of a team sport, so to speak (after ditching Nick Hornby above), and I was not disappointed. The residents of Beartown breathe hockey — it is everywhere, their only source of revenue, and their only entertainment. But when the star player rapes a young girl called Maya, the whole town is divided. Though the rape itself doesn’t happen until the first quarter of the book, the rest of the novel focuses on setting up the other strands of the story — the hockey general manager, who happens to be Maya’s dad; his lawyer wife; the poor young boy who longs to be a star so he can help his mother out; and the best friend of the accused — a boy brought up with three older sisters with a family dynamic that is one of the sweetest I’ve ever read about. It is intense, and just what you should read if you have ever wondered about what goes into making your favourite team what they are today.
Unlike Backman, the two other Josephine Tey novels I read I enjoyed — The Man In the Queue was nice, but Daughter of Time really takes the mystery genre to a new level. Short synopsis: A detective is laid up in a hospital bed and decides to pass the time by seeing whether Richard III really murdered the princes in the tower. So it is no surprise that Brat Farrar , Tey’s 1949 crime novel, went down nice and easy.
You know the crime already at the beginning of the book — a poor young man whose name is Brat Farrar impersonates a missing brother of the wealthy Ashby family in order to steal his inheritance.
What is odd is that you’re rooting for Brat, while, at the same time, knowing that his innate goodness will not let him succeed. There is a deeper mystery hidden within the “will they, won’t they” suspense in the rest of the book, and while you might figure it out before the book’s end (I did), the way it plays out on the page is nail-biting to the final climax. Tey based it vaguely around a real-life case of a man who pretended to be a dead heir, and stories of impostors are always so fascinating, aren’t they?
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of six books, the latest being The One Who Swam With the Fishes
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