Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Village By The Sea - A Reading Group Discuss

Village By The Sea really polarised the book discussion this week with some livid that something like this could: 1) get published, and 2) win prizes. There was a little upset that it was in the schools, however the counter argument is that it’s language is appropriate, easily accessible; is the only book of its type, aimed at that age group; and raises so many questions. Actually, considering the argument about the outcome of the book it’s interesting that we didn’t discuss how dreary life is for them all at the present tim5: all the men looking to drink to solve their anxieties.

1: Lots of plot elements are built up but dealt with off page – poof – it’s wasted.

2: P. 110. There are sixteen lines describing the night, and then one about Hari being there asleep.

3: Yes, the descriptions don’t really add to either plot or place do they? They seem levered in there.

2: The problem with flowery prose is a blind alley.

4: I agree but Michael Ondatjee and Lewis Durrell are just two examples that have wonderful prose that works.

5: Well, I liked it. I first read it and it was almost like Desai had taken out the interesting things and left just the carcass. But it’s Penguin.

3: Yeah, I missed that. What? It’s a kids book?!

5: It’s lovely. Difficult to get round the flower list. But, do you consider it as fiction or a tool for teaching?

1: The problem; is it in excusing the age of the book or the age group?

6: This isn’t better/worse than other books of its ilk. It raises issues without beating you over the head. It’s a dark book. Prescient.

7: The darkness brings it to life.

8: You judge as a piece of writing instead of fiction.

6: Enid Blyton wrote good stories, but you wouldn’t teach her work. Philip Pullman is the same. It’s wonderful but not all should be written like that.

5: Wouldn’t use Harry Potter.

8: As a book it works. Conflict is constant – environment/family/drunks/ecology. Hari lacks a father figure – has a fairytale aspect of storytelling. Didn’t think it patronising. It’s supposed to be easy reading. Such a dark/dismal life is coming in the future. So it had a good storytelling technique.

4: Desai is trying to be optimistic.

6: No. Like Sebald, it’s ll about the ending of things. Nothing’s positive.

9: Mixed message. We have a Westernised view that these people are a sad waste; the change is awful.

8: Ironic ending. He’s happy but his way of life is coming to an end.

4: I was reading about the Bhupal disaster. I thought that was where the story was leading to, but it was published before the incident.

3: It’s interesting to consider the irony of that in this context then.

9: Human misery is quelled by the humanity. It makes it all better. These people are goodies and these people are baddies.

3: I’d disagree. Desai seems to have a problem with wanting to show fallibility. The character of the chef who takes Hari in, is a stoic, but supportive and caring person. He supports Hari whilst getting his help in the work. Then she has him take Hari home and completely burns down everything we’ve thought about him – he argues with his wife, dumps Hari on her (with her whingeing away) and he goes off, like Hari’s father to get drunk on Toddy.

4: Characters are not strong. We don’t know them. Lila doesn’t come over at all. Harry is inconsistent.

3: And all the conflicts and problems end in Deus ex Machina/Fairy Godmother scenarios.

2: Enid Blyton’s kids did everything for themselves.

1: Harry’s passivity was disturbing – way he runs away. He’s not grounded, so I didn’t have to deal with it, and I wasn’t concerned.

2: It seems to work on lucky accidents.

8: I ran away from home when I was a kid (14), saved up my money (I was angry at my family), and I travelled 300 miles. When I reached the furthest I could go (I had a return ticket), I met a Nicuraguan Taxi driver who took me home to meet his wife and spend the night (I had nowhere else to go). I got up the next morning and returned home. Mum was paralytic with rage. Looking back on it, its scary and stupid, but in Desai’s it’s not because the kid doesn’t appreciate it fully. It’s believable.

4: But I believe your story. Not Hari’s. The dialogue is much better than I originally gave it credit for, however.

1: I worry about it patronising. Why can’t they deal with emotions – anger/fear? Is it right to make concessions?

6: There aren’t any concessions.

1: Not pictured for us, but allowing us to connect with it. Amazed it takes so long for Hari to send the postcard and then when it’s received, it’s with enmity!

2: But Re’s story has danger.

1: Very happy that Hari goes to the apartment, into the lift (for the very first time), but it’s a lost opportunity as he doesn’t react to these new places.

6: But that would take it off the topic. Reading fairystories – off fighting a dragon. The storyteller doesn’t say that the Prince cuts off the ugly sisters’ toes, and the blood goes everywhere, and the people react with horror. Toes are cut off, the kids fill in the rest.

1: But there’s no opportunities, no moment of linking with the environment. No reactions.

2: It wasn’t one person’s story.

7: I wanted more peril for the family. I wanted a death. The ash in the mouth of the mother made me wonder if she would go, but no.

8: Expectation of death?

7: Different culture but kids do know about these things.

2: But the father just ups and stops drinking. Why did he suddenly care about his wife?

4: Keep giving him money! Why’d they do that?

8: But it’s a Cinderella story. Is it finished?

1: It’s all wrapped up.

7: I read Adrian Mole when I was 6, and I could deal with the girl’s nipple etc,

8: Because of the way events transpire it shows the denigration of society.

3: As an eight year old reader none of the subtleties or subtext is going to matter to me.

6: Lots of fatalism in Indian Culture. Accepting of the caste system, their place in life. This book swims against that tide.

7: You can do something to change it if you’re lucky.

4: Hari thinks the watchmaker is naïve. No watches in the village. Sayid Ali, the bird watcher, what did people make of him?

5: I was in India, in a traffic jam and I bought Kiran Desai’s booker winner of a lady who was going between the cars selling books. What a brilliant way to sell books! Our friend is Sri Lanken, and she read The Village By The Sea, thought it nice but nothing happens. Couldn’t get her kids to read it. Sarah Waters’s book is a good read for someone with pneumonia. You’d read Anita Desai’s when you’re hot, as it’s not too excitable. The protagonist is a camera so that kids can project onto him.

9: Hari’s worried but excited by change. – it’s not an extensive inward journey.

8: As far as contrast/compare the two heads are missing (ala Gawain). Parents are cut off – 1 stuck back on by medicine, the other by sobriety.

6: Strong nature and death of nature.

7: It’s very beautiful but not deep.

9: Work with an editor. Must understand how to write for the age group.

Western culture it seems is too jaded for this Cinderella story. Desai was the only one writing about India for kids at the time (80s), and it was picked up by schools to fill the gap rather than because of choice.

9: When I was travelling in Africa I was taking pictures of the places and people, but when a tribal group came through one village and I went to take a picture of the children, they were so fearful of it. There is a big divide, not just between Western and Eastern cultures. There is so much fear and deprivation.

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