The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

TSCTerry Pratchett has been and still remains a favorite author ever since I discovered the DiscWorld series back in 2004. The Shepherd’s Crown is his last and yet another awesome work. This novel also marks the end of the Tiffany Aching series, all of which never failed to bring on a few laughs, though they dealt with a lot of evil characters that lived beyond the realm of DiscWorld. Tiffany has pretty much settled in Chalk as its chief witch but her busy life is disrupted by the death of Granny Weatherwax who names Tiffany as her heir.

Granny’s death took up just a chapter or two at the most, and before I had time to move over from Granny’s death I was caught up with TIffany’s extra busy life as she shuttles between Chalk and Lancre trying to do justice to her job. Meanwhile, Granny’s death had weakened the defenses of Discworld, stirring an ancient enemy into action…one perhaps even Tiffany would prefer giving a second chance rather than fight.

This is an action-packed story where the old and the young stir to fight till their last breath in order to save what they hold dear. The main theme I felt was death and the loss that is felt by the loved ones afterwards…in fact, Pratchett provides a window into his thoughts through Granny. And you can feel this as you read about Granny realizing that her time was near organizes her affairs and leaves instructions for people she cares about most – Nanny and Tiffany. And dealing with the loss of a loved one covers the rest of the story. The story also covers the concept of man-cave/ tool shed as the old men of Lancre are introduced to it by Geoffrey, the young apprentice of Tiffany. It also serves a coming of age story as Tiffany transitions to the role of head witch, a post formerly held by Esme Weatherwax. A sombre novel!

Alas! I wish I could find the Discworld series at discounted prices, if only to collect them all.

Rare and Obscure readings in 2015

These are books I picked up in the British Library sales years ago. I consider these rare and obscure because – a) I haven’t come across these titles in years in any lists or references and b) The books are out of print in Amazon and other sites. While I managed to give away quite a few of them over the past couple of years, the following books survived the clean up only to be given away this year –

  1. Beyond the Blue Mountains by Penelope Lively – Published in 1998, this short story collection is abound with themes which include marriage and human relationships interspersed with stories on caution, all of which are given just a touch of magical realism. The principal story is set in Australia was interesting while the rest of the stories based out of England were politely engaging.
  2. The Lotus House by Katherine Moore – Published in 1985 and set in England, the Lotus House details the memories of an old woman named Lotty who buys and renovates a dilapidated house in a desperate attempt to save it. The house holds good memories for Lotty and in hopes of keeping them alive, she goes about acquiring tenants whose lives are not quite what she imagines them to be. The reluctant residents are united and possibly given new beginnings with a bit of nudge from the cleaning lady. A light and quick read!
  3. Laura by GMT Parsons – A totally obscure tale with a deceptive book cover. Laura and her sister Fanny are two orphans, who are taken in by an uncle from their father’s side. Used to frequent house moves, a delicate aunt and an eager governess who’s determined to please, the girls uneventful lives are livened up by their latest move although Laura’s quiet demeanor hides a disturbing secret, capable of causing tragedy.
  4. Diary of a Misplaced Philosopher by Joseph North – Quirky and humorous, this diary/novel is one year worth’s account of the author’s life. The author’s doctorate in philosophy has no relation to this profession but bears heavily on his musings and observations. The entries speak of his friends, flat mates, the old dear and her feline companions whose eccentrics border on the improbable. The only flipped was as the pages progressed, it became a clear case of mundane monologue with predictable repetitions. Nothing like EM Delafield’s works!
  5. Big House – Helena McEwen explores life’s tragedies through her protagonist Elizabeth’s musings as she attempts to come to terms with the sudden deaths of her siblings – James and Kitty. While the memories masquerade a happy family, they convey the image of a family plagued with alcoholism, marital discord and childhood disturbances that cause her family to crumble. Definitely a book that deserves patience!
  6. The Duchess of Castile – Julian Fane’s The Duchess of Castile explores the consequences of one woman’s ambitions as she sets about manipulating a naive upper class Englishman whose resentment of his older brother leads to tragic endings. Thoroughly gloomy and psychotic to the point I was happy to be rid of it.

Swallows of Kabul

I discovered Swallows of Kabul in one of my random browsings at the library. This lyrical story with tragedy and hopelessness was surprisingly quite engaging…in the sense, it helped me count my blessings. Khadra’s writings on life in Afghanistan reflect both the bygone era of relative peace and tranquility and the existing state of constant turmoil often fraught with brutalities of unimaginable magnitude. swallowskabul

The story opens with a scene of public execution of a woman and is described through the eyes of the reluctant prison warden and an unemployed literate. The unemployed literate even participates in the execution, if only in the hopes of pacifying his restless soul. The tragic moments leading to the woman’s death echoes through their minds forcing each man to reconcile with the reality of their environment while highlighting their helplessness in the face of grim uncertainty.

The story doesn’t end with these men but it soon encompasses the souls of their wives, one who is ailing and longs for release while the other resents her circumstances, for being forced to endure life behind a veil. Khadra creates a synergy between the couples by unfolding the women’s sufferings through the eyes of their hapless husbands, hinting that they had experienced better times and are now forced to endure humiliation while mourning for their lost freedom. The conclusion to this heart-wrenching tale comes through the women whose fates become interlinked through a series of bizarre circumstances.

I enjoyed Khadra’s writing for his lyrical portrayal of human sufferings and emotions, for the way he effortlessly portrays a woman’s pain and endurance in the face of unspeakable atrocities. He mastery over prose ensnared me into the story turning me into a helpless by-stander who can only watch in horror as the events unfold but do nothing to change the situation. Khadra is definitely an author not to be missed. Hope to add more of his works to my TBR pile for next year.