The title of Jeffrey Archer’s latest book is too lovely for me to bother thinking up something else to head this post. It is a line from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Archer quotes it before the book of short stories begins. Not that I would know even otherwise, I never studied literature. Sometimes I wish I had, maybe I could quote more from those works or maybe write better, but well…
Archer had told me about one particular story in the book when I interviewed him last year. (Yes, I am showing off!!! LOL!) Caste Off, set in Delhi, with a little chauvinist Rajput, a beauty with brains character and a typical love story. I borrowed the book from the library, there are other books that I would rather buy. No offence to popular fiction though, I have no qualms in admitting I read, and like, Chetan Bhagat too.
As I raced through the 15 stories in the book in just half and evening and one night, I was reminded of Archer’s words when he was in Bangalore for the book tour of Paths of Glory. That is one good book I would highly recommend, a historic fiction about George Mallory, the man who might have been the first to climb Mount Everest in 1924. With a lot of emotions and detailed descriptions of the expeditions, it is one of his best. Kane and Abel is fantastic too, I was told he is bringing out an updated version of it in October this year where though the plot will remain the same, there will be slight modifications.
And so when he was here last year, he was talking of how it is the story teller that we remember the most, not necessarily the literary genius. How true. That is what Bhagat had mentioned too. Ultimately, I suppose it is about the number of millions you sell and make. Archer is a captivating speaker as well, highly entertaining. So are his books.
I can claim to have read quite a lot of books in my lifetime! But despite turning up my nose at what some would demean as pulp fiction, I must admit that there is a pull to it that rarely can any of us readers resist. I picked up the book late yesterday evening and read through the night. I did not have to be reminded how amazing a story teller he is. These are those books that you simply don’t want to put down. There is this sense of urgency when you are turning the pages, that desire to get it over with, so that you can be free to do other things like cook, eat, sleep. That is, I think, what all of us who put thoughts into words, dream of, to be able to write in a way that you can’t wait for the story to finish. You come away knowing fully well that there was not anything great about what you read, but till so far that you are between the pages of the book, there is the world of the author that you let yourself be pulled into. Quite like one of those utterly commercial Hindi movies with stale jokes, silly songs and no real storyline.
As for the book itself, my personal favourite from the collection would be Caste-Off, though it quite reeks of clichés and the white-man’s views of marriage and caste. Maybe I am just biased. It made for a good read though. None of the stories have any surprises though, they are all quite predictable, to say the least. That reminds me of Sidney Sheldon, that other popular author, whose stories were all predictable to the letter, yet made for reading of the kind I attempt to describe above.
I was very disappointed with the story ‘Blind Date’ in the collection. It is a straight rip off from one of Ruskin Bond’s old short story, I forget the title of that one. Archer’s is set in a restaurant while Bond’s was set in a train. That apart, almost down to what the male protagonist thinks, there is not much difference. Hmm Mr Archer? The story ‘Better the Devil You Know’ reminded me of that Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley starrer, Bedazzled, I think about the devil and the seven sins. But I could live with that similarity, it is the one about Bond that I am horrified over.
These stories will not surprise you if you are a seasoned reader. But I would recommend it, if only that you can see and appreciate Archer’s genius and mastery over his words and his readers. That's the real work of a story teller, and damn Archer is good!