Am I happy?

What is happiness?

For the longest time, I believed happiness to be a place where if I enter once, I’d never come out of; like a pandora’s box, a candy shop that never runs out of candy or an endless supply of my favorite things. Little did I know, happiness would be fleeting, coming and going; sometimes staying for days maybe even months, and other times just brushing me by like the winter breeze. It’s hard to describe what happiness means. Everything I know of life has been experienced through trial and error, and everything I knew of happiness has been felt after a series of ups and downs. Happiness does not come from an isolated place. It’s either accompanied before or after sadness, sometimes devoid of emotions. After all, that’s how you really understand what it’s like being happy. When your heart flutters and dances, when the moon looks more beautiful and when your shoulders don’t feel heavy.  If you look closely, it’s just an absence of sadness. So do I look happy? I don’t know, it depends on how you look at it. But do I have happy moments in between moments of nothingness? Of course, I do. I’ve found happiness in the mundane. It doesn’t take much effort but this happiness isn’t conditional. It’s forever giving. And for now, that’s all I need.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A profound yet witty story about loneliness, and how people choose to cope with it.

Winner of the Costa Book Award 2018,  and a longlist nominee for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is Honeyman’s debut novel that has struck many a hearts with its honest writing and a character so real, that one wonders what took the author so long to pen down a novel so brilliant in its entirety.

Eleanor is in her 30s, living a life that consists of just her and maybe a pot plant at home she often talks to. She has been working as a finance clerk in a graphic design company for 9 years now, with no friends or colleagues to pass time with. Her only solace is crossword puzzles and weekends spent with a bottle of vodka and Tesco pizzas. If monotony had a name, it would be Eleanor. She is socially awkward, and doesn’t understand ‘small talk’ or other niceties. Always the subject of jokes by her colleagues, Eleanor is often regarded as the ‘weirdo’.

“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? “

Eleanor develops a huge crush on a pop singer she sees in a concert, and decides that he’s the one for her. The singer is far from what Eleanor imagines him to be, and is a terrible singer with no respect for others whatsoever. She then goes to many lengths to change her appearance, so that their chance meeting could be memorable. Eleanor starts obsessing over the singer like a high-school teenager, and follows him around on social media. Her concept of what’s real and imaginary is blurred.

One fine day, she helps an old man who fell down in the middle of the road. She along with Raymond, the IT guy in her office, take it upon themselves to rescue the old man. This particular act of kindness opens doors for her, leading her to several other connections, and possibly towards a life Eleanor had always imagined. She has to break down the walls she’s constructed around her, and for the first time in forever, feel and experience things from a different perspective.

Although Eleanor is a loner, she speaks with her mother on the phone on Wednesday nights. Her ‘mummy’ lives somewhere far, and is a terrible mother who projects all her anger and rage at her daughter. Eleanor has spent her childhood in foster homes, and has always missed having a family. Eleanor doesn’t know where her mummy is but all she knows is that it’s a ‘bad place’.

The question then arises; why is Eleanor so lonely? The past is unravelled slowly with each chapter, and you’re able to understand the reason behind this isolation. Eleanor has had a troubled past, where she had been abused both mentally and physically throughout her life. While in university, she was in an abusive relationship with a man, who would punch and rape her. Her low self-esteem and social anxiety pinpoint to years of emotional trauma and lack of love. She lives with a scar on her face, after having survived a third degree burn in her childhood. This invited bullying in school, and everywhere she went.  Eleanor has learnt how to survive. Living, however, is still alien to her

Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She’s done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.’

Never before has loneliness been narrated in such a heartbreaking way. Humans have various coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with loneliness. Eleanor, on the other hand, tells herself she’s completely fine. She embodies all of us, who are hiding under the garb of ‘work’ or ‘meetings’ or ‘parties’ to avoid being left alone with nothing but our thoughts; hoping that one day, the burden we’re carrying deep inside would be lifted and we could feel free again.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a roller coaster ride of emotions, and laughter, and subtle jibes at the bleak lives some humans live. It is as much about loneliness as it is about hope and the chance to love.

There are scars on my heart, just as thick, as disfiguring as those on my face. I know they’re there. I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.”


Author: Gail Honeyman

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Pages: 383

Rating: 4.8/5

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

Author Interview: Nishant Kaushik

Meet the author.

When I read ‘My father is a Hero’ I was awed by the author’s ability to capture elements in his novel that usually go unnoticed.The contribution and sacrifices that go in nurturing a child by a single father has been beautifully written. And what better way to know more about the author than to hound him for an interview? (I AM KIDDING, OKAY). The author was extremely kind and generous to offer his time to do an interview for The Literary Cat.

You can read the review of My Father is Hero here: Review: My Father is a Hero

Get to know the Author:

Nishant Kaushik is the author of six published novels. He also keeps a day job as a business, IT, and something-of-everything consultant in Melbourne. Along his journey as a novelist he has interned as a screenplay consultant, a comic book co-writer, a columnist for journals like Yowoto and Mildred – essentially, he loves experimenting with genres ranging from full-length novels to guest articles. He lives in Australia with his wife and son.

Interview:

  • Hello, Sir. Thank you for taking out time to do an interview. When did you first realise you wanted to become a writer?

NK: There was no single trigger. My interest in writing evolved over years, from spot-storytelling and essay writing competitions in school, to articles for the college magazine, followed by a couple of poems for newspaper supplements. As far as I can remember, the idea of my first novel finally occurred to me when I was 19. It was finally published when I was nearly 24.

  • What inspired you to write your latest novel, “My Father is a Hero”?

NK: My inspiration lies in my own and many other wonderful fathers I have met in my life. Unlike a mother’s love that is much talked about, a father’s love is rather understated. One often has to peel through their tough, terse exteriors to understand their love. Even today when I talk to my father, we exchange few words. But he has always shown through his actions that he has a heart of gold. This golden heart is the basis on which I fashioned my central character.

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  • Tell us a little about your book.

        NK: My Father Is A Hero is a fictional account of a single father’s determined journey towards seeing his daughter emerge as a successful, confident girl with the passion to pursue her passion. It also speaks of the struggles of a middle-class family and how love trumps all troughs that are associated with a mediocre career, self-conflicts during adolescence, and the regret of an unfulfilled dream.

  • What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

NK: I have specific requirements on the ambience around me. I cannot write at home, I must find a café that stays open until late in the night. It must be crowded enough for me to observe people, but not too crowded to find a seat. And the table must NOT be rickety!

  • Where did your love for books/storytelling/writing come from?

NK: I will attribute that to the several books written by Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain I read when I was a young boy. I wish I had sustained this habit of reading.

  • What does your family think of your writing?

NK: They are very honest about what they feel, and I guess that is how it should be. They praise my work where it is due, but also warn me against mediocrity. I recently canned a manuscript I had been working on, because my mother read a draft and felt it was going nowhere. I always rely on them for feedback.

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Nishant Kaushik with his son. ADORBS.
  • Are there any new authors who have grasped your interest?

NK: As I said I haven’t maintained the reading habit much. But Khaled Hosseini and Aravind Adiga are among a few authors whose recent books I have enjoyed reading.

  • How is Nishant Kaushik like when he’s not writing?

NK: A regular office goer who struggles to make time between daily chores, family duties, and sleep that I am always in dire need of.

  • If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about any of your novels?

NK: I would un-heed all advice I got during my early years as an author that told me I needed erotica and cuss words to make my work commercially viable.

  • A piece of advice you’d like to give to budding authors.

NK: The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to write is to not seek advice. Writing is an experience unique to every writer, and we all discover in our own ways what makes our work work. This journey is sacrosanct and we should not tamper with it too much by looking for templated tips on dos and dont’s.

 

I hope you had as great a time reading the blog post as I had writing and interviewing. Stay tuned for more interesting interviews!

Review: Selfienomics

A seriously funny guide to living the good life.

Author: Revant

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Genre: Self-help

Pages: 191

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4/5

 

What happens when you read a book that is bombarded with memes, hashtags, open dialogues, hard-hitting questions and a desire to perceive the world around you differently? You become enlightened. #Nirvana

One of my reading goals this year was to read self-help books because my life has a tendency to spiral around I decided to rely on people to do that for me. Well, jokes apart, it is a decision that I plan on implementing. I started this road to self-discovery with Selfienomics, a debut novel, by Revant which

a.) Is extremely funny. You know the kind of funny which makes you pause and laugh like a retarded seal?  No? Okay.

b.) Is informative and very well researched. Ofcourse, self-help books are supposed to be researched blah blah. It is well researched in the sense that it is relatable to everyone especially the current scenario of Indians and India.

c.) You get to make a choice. Revant didn’t shove his opinion down our throats instead he paved the way for open-end discussions where you are the sailor and you get to decide the direction. No judgement there.

Selfienomics talks about life in general. Food, Feminism, Politics, Religion and how to read the label off of a food item before buying. Reading the book made me realise that there are a lot of things i’m ignorant about or I consider it extremely trivial for an intellect like me to dwell upon. I was wrong. I think that’s what reading good books are like; you begin to develop the ‘why syndrome’. Why does something happen the way it does? Why are people so stupid? Why am I such an idiot? You get the drill. For a debut novel, Revant has managed to bring burning issues under one umbrella and has successfully tackled them in a delightful manner. I’m going to cite some of my favourite examples since listing all of them is not possible:

Since I have been in the process of job hunting and trying to make a career the idea of Personal Branding stuck to me.

There exists a chicken and egg problem today in relation to jobs and experience. You need a job to get experience, and you need experience to get a job. Don’t let lack of experience deter you from pursuing your interest. No one is born with experience. While experience may often be irrelevant and specific to an industry, your personal brand is relevant across all sectors. When your personal brand is of an individual who is honest and gives his or her best, opportunities are sure to open up. Focus on building your #PersonalBrand and experience will follow.

While we’re on the topic of doing something in life, I can’t help but mention the author’s advice on categorising our goals. Career goals, Moral goals, Bucket Lists, Financial Goals etc. Not only does it help us realise what we truly want but also helps in overcoming the identity crisis that is prevalent with the youth of today. By prioritising, we can be more productive and work towards our dreams.

If you aren’t able to fulfil your own dreams, make it your dream to fulfil the dreams of others.

Speaking of serious issues like Feminism, Patriotism, and birth control, the author tries to portray the harsh reality, the pros and cons of our current situation citing examples and showing where we as a nation stand.

It’s commendable how the author was able to merge concepts of economics and the business world with real life situations. All in all, Selfienomics delivers more than it promised and is a smart attempt at creating a world that is educated and accepting of each other’s differences.

Aim for an open discussion–which encourages criticism as well as allows mistakes.

 

Review: Before I Go To Sleep

Welcome to Christine’s life. She wakes up every morning not knowing where she is or who she is next to.

Author: S.J Watson

Length: 372 pages

Publisher: Penguin India

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4/5

 

Synopsis:  

Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even people you love- all forgotten overnight.

And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.

Welcome to Christine’s life

My Review:

Welcome to Christine’s life. She wakes up every morning not knowing where she is or who she is next to. She believes herself to be a 20 year old but she isn’t. She is a 47 year old woman who has no idea of her past or present. The future at this point does not exist for her.

There has a been a lot of hype surrounding this debut novel by S.J Watson and it did live up to the expectations. The story revolves around a woman who suffers from amnesia due to an accident that took place years ago. She wakes up everyday unaware of her identity or the identity of the person she is living with. No matter how hard she tries, her mind is blank. It’s like her life never happened and she’s been reduced into the body of a stranger. The only person she can trust is her husband, Ben. But is Ben really speaking the truth?  As she begins to put together shattered pieces of her memory, she realises her life has been a lie.

Christine is helped by her psychologist Dr.Nash who advises her to maintain a journal where she can write down everything about her life and everything she does in a day. At this point, Christine cannot differentiate between black and white; her perception is distorted. Memories from the past hit her like a ton of bricks but she is unable to decipher whether it is a figment of her imagination or reality. She knows if she sleeps today, she will wake up tomorrow with no memory of what happened the day before. The journal is her only hope. The author takes you into the psyche of a person who remembers nothing. A person who has to start from scratch every single day.

The novel surely is a page turner although it gets a little dragging in the middle.

The writing style is impressive, simple and holds the readers’ attention. I had a lot of assumptions about the climax and had my own theories on how the novel would end. But the ending was unexpected and I didn’t see it coming.

Before I Go To Sleep is fast paced (something most mystery novels lack), it is gripping right from the start and raw. For readers who love psychological thrillers, this one is right up your alley.