Posts Tagged Drama
Title English Vinglish
Starring Sridevi, Adil Hussein, and Mehdi Nebbou
Director Gauri Shinde
Writer(s) Gauri Shinde
Genre Comedy Drama Family
Release Date October 05, 2012
Filming Location NY, NY, USA; Pune, Maharashtra, India
Parental Guidance PG
IMDB Rating 7.9
Synopsis: Shashi (Sridevi) is a dedicated wife, loving mother, dutiful daughter-in-law, and an efficient homemaker. She is also a small time entrepreneur, filling orders for celebration sweets from her home kitchen, and her laddoos are to die for. But her talents and individuality are overshadowed by the responsibilities she fulfills for her family; her gracious and unassuming personality has only enabled them to take her for granted. She is often ridiculed by her preteen daughter Sapna (Navika Kotia) and corporate husband Satish (Adil Hussein) for her inability to converse in English and very traditional manners, with only her mother-in-law (Subha Deshpande) to sympathize and younger son Sagaar (Shivansh Kotia) as a source of solace. And while she accepts the indignities with a pinch of salt, she is observant and is fully aware of what is lacking in her life. She believes if she learns English, she will belong better. When her elder sister Manu (Sujatha Kumar) invites her to the USA for her niece’s wedding, Shashi finds herself navigating a new world and discovering independence despite her language barriers. She finds a friend in Manu’s younger college-bound daughter Radha (Priya Anand) who encourages her to explore her potentials and give in to her desires. A chance observation at a bus stop takes her to a four-week English course, where Shashi finds a host of new friends and one potential romantic diversion Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) whose admiration of her is apparent to all.
Experience (some spoilers to tempt you): This is one of those movies that capture the everyday life and the characteristics of the human soul with acute awareness. Nothing world shattering transpires other than the transformation of a woman through her ability to recognize the void in her life and mustering the courage to fill it. With superb acting by the legendary Sridevi in her returning role and excellent effort by the rest of the cast, the movie captures the complexity of Shashi’s dilemmas with the simplicity of her personality.
Gauri Shinde, film’s director and screenwriter, does not waste time in exposing the conflict in this movie. We straightaway see the efficiency with which Shashi manages her household as well as her business and how her achievements are overlooked. We see that Shashi is a keen observer of her surroundings, she is conscious of the injustice in her life, and that a lack of confidence stops her from righting the wrongs committed against her. The abuse is cruel though not always intentional, but it is abuse all the same because it is slowly crippling her very existence.
Alternatively, we see her happiest when she is out delivering sweets to her clients, where her talent is celebrated. We see her attempting to share her joy with her husband but he is too busy to appreciate the value of her accomplishments. Then we see her walk off the resulting disappointment by dancing like Michael Jackson with her young son, who is still too young to be busy for his mom. Shashi’s fears and desires are exposed without any delay, making the story an effortless journey.
Intelligently titled English Vinglish, Shinde uses the traditional take of Hindi speakers to add rhyming suffixes any word to portray English as an active agent in class stratification. Her daughter openly treats her with contempt for her lack of English proficiency unlike her friends’ mothers even though her friends love Shashi’s cooking. We see her worry that her husband may one day tire of her and run off with a more modern woman. We watch her practice correct pronunciations in isolation. We know she needs an English course. It piques the audience sympathy for every step of the way.
Language barrier is a tangible tool in Shinde’s exploration of lifestyle and status quo in both India and the USA. At the same time, we also get to see that if two persons truly desired to communicate with one another, they may understand each other’s needs without even speaking the same language. There are some notable exchanges and moments in the movie that demonstrate its value:
SHASHI TO SHATISH: “Important discussions only happen in English?”
AMERICAN VISA OFFICER TO SHASHI: “How will you manage in our country if you don’t know English?”
INDIAN VISA ASSISTANT WITH TIMELY PRESENCE: “Same way you manage in our country without knowing Hindi.”
Or watching the first time Shashi successfully navigates the subways and streets of NYC and Manhattan to locate the NY Language Center. Or the way she can speak in Hindi to Laurent while he speaks in French to her but they are able to perfectly communicate their individual needs and troubles.
Yet, while language barrier is used as the central tool to explore Shashi’s struggles, the story exposes a more prevalent predicament faced by housewives – that of allowing one’s herself to become lost in the roles. This is not only a lifestyle perpetuated by housewives in India but the world over. We see an underappreciated and often disrespected supermom and cheer for her as she reclaims her individuality. We are pointed out how loved ones can hold her back from reaching her full potential when they fail to appreciate her contributions and talents. How the family for which she sacrifices everything can fail to make her feel like she belongs.
LAURENT: “But your food…” (gestures A-Ok)
SHASHI: “No, no. Your cooking… hotel… expert. I’m… in-house cooking… Very small.”
LAURENT: “Not small, not small. Food is… food is art.”
SHASHI (REFLECTING ON HER HOME LIFE): “Man cooking – art. Woman cooking – duty.”
LAURENT: “Food is love. You cooking with love. Good food. You make people happy. You artist. Not small.”
SHASHI SMILES TO HERSELF WITH SELF-APPRECIATION.
SHASHI TO RADHA: “I don’t need love, I need just a little bit of respect.”
SHASHI’S WEDDING TOAST: “This marriage is a beautiful thing. It is the most special friendship. Friendship of two people who are equal. Meera, sometimes you will feel less. Kevin, sometimes you will also feel less than Meera. Try to help each other feel equal…”
The movie aims to encourage homemakers to take me time for herself and not become a martyr to her family’s needs and demands.
And all through this, Shashi is also presented with temptation in the form of a handsome Frenchman who is a professional chef (sharing her talent) and belongs to her language class (facing her struggle) who can’t keep his eyes off her because he finds beauty in all her actions. We wonder if she will give in, we would even understand if she does. Will she pursue a new life as well as she has pursued a new skill? Her family is her weakness in more ways than one and we wonder if she will seek escape. Nebbou’s personification of kindness is just what Sridevi’s demonstrations of self-awakenings deserve. It increases the tension in a perversely hopeful way.
Recommendation: Well, language barrier to Hindi might put off some audience but this movie can be watched for that very reason – to appreciate cultural differences (I have seen this movie in my hotel room in Bangkok once in Thai). Moreover, stories this valuable if missed is a great miss. I can tell you that it is not the first I have watched it nor will it be the last.
Via: Daily Prompt – Roots
Title Mr. Church
Starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone
Director Bruce Beresford
Writer(s) Susan McMartin
Genre Comedy Drama
Release Date September 16, 2016
Filming Location Los Angeles, California, USA
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic elements
IMDB Rating 7.7
Synopsis: In 1971, 10-year-old Charlie Brooks (Natalie Coughlin) wakes up one morning to find “a black man cooking in their kitchen”. Mr. Henry Joseph Church (Eddie Murphy) is the cook Richard, her mother Marie’s (Natascha McElhone) ex-lover, hired to take care of Marie for the next six months that she has to live while cancer consumes her. Charlie, who is unaware of her mother’s condition, is immediately put on edge by the absent Richard’s overstepping their privacy to place this mysterious man in their home though his meals are “like a party all the time” and her friends all cotton onto the advantages of having a cook quickly. Mr. Church raises a lot of conflicting emotions in Charlie with his jazz and his books (that he offers to lend books to Charlie from like a library) and, especially, his cooking. Over time, Charlie gives in. Six months turn into six years and Marie continues to live while Mr. Church continues to take care of them. An older Charlie (Britt Robertson) is now an avid reader, a student who has been accepted to Boston University but might not be able to go due to financial constraints, and she is weary of expecting her bed-ridden mother to pass on any minute. She avoids her mother even as she checks her breathing to ensure she lives and finds solace in the presence of Mr. Church, to whom she has latched onto as the surviving parent. But Mr. Church remains a mystery as much as ever and protects his off-duty hour whereabouts determinedly. Friendship has bonded the three into a family and Mr. Church is ever-present to soften the blows while Charlie ventures onto adulthood and navigates its many curveballs.
Experience (a few spoilers): I have always loved Eddie Murphy, ever since I watched a re-telecast of Coming to America on TV when I was about ten/eleven. So I put on Mr. Church fully expecting him to live up to his acting prowess and he did not disappoint. Generally a comic actor, Murphy put on his drama mask with the grace and appeal that made me want to run a Murphy Marathon featuring all his classics.
From the get-go, he had me hooked. The quiet efficiency with which he chopped and stirred and sauteed in the kitchen to his gracious compassion for the young Charlie and her sick mother. The character is beautifully written and presented, not needing to be thanked but doing his best to fit into the lives of this pair without trying to do any more than his job. But behind his humility lurks humor, which peeks out whenever he presents a dish to Charlie and watches her battle with herself to continue rejecting him while devouring his food.
Here, I must say something about the child actor. I truly enjoyed Coughlin’s performance as well. Short as her part was, she brought that sweetness to the character that made me feel more sympathetic towards young Charlie than annoyed, which could easily have happened given the level of her hostility. Though often rude with the openly belligerent rejection of Mr. Church, Charlie was apparently a kind soul in her heart, if wary. And even though the movie did not explore the angle that the advent of Mr. Church denoted her mother’s inability to keep up with chores, hence harking her imminent demise, I believe Charlie’s distrust may have stemmed from such intuition. In any case, every time Coughlin’s big blues rounded at the sumptuous food laid before her, I felt like giving her the auntie-cuddle.
The older Charlie did not always inspire as much hold though I could also like her fairly enough. It must be the overall sense of goodness that emanated from Charlie’s character, from childhood to adulthood. I could feel sympathy for her teen self as she transferred her sense of security to Mr. Church while trying to deal with her mother’s (a woman she continued to believe the most beautiful woman on earth) impending death. Her withdrawal is real and her acceptance of life’s pitfalls also feels real. Robertson does a good job performing the role of the watchful-yet-retiring teenager and later the transgressing-and-learning adult. She is the character that has to grow and Mr. Church is the rock on which she founds herself.
McElhone did a great job in playing a woman trying to make the most of her last days with her daughter. The mother’s love is apparent and there is a particular scene in the bathtub that she performed superbly. The scene could easily have turned sappy but Marie’s struggle to make her daughter understand the importance of not giving up on life while waiting for death felt chokingly real. She depicted physical weakness while trying to muster emotional strength as she confesses her biggest regret is something beyond her control. I think that is the scene that dotted her t’s and crossed her i’s for McElhone’s take on Marie’s role.
The overriding themes of this movie, home, acceptance, and friendship, is so beautifully slipped into the consciousness that even when tragedies strike, it’s ok – reassurance is just around the corner. It is as though the Mr. Church’s personality permeates the plot. It is one of those stories where nothing much happens other than life, and we are reminded every phase of the film that in life, tragedy is part and parcel of happiness. It allows the audience to realize that it’s not so bad. I cried many times through the movie but there was a joy. I felt peace. And the lovely way the scenes were scripted and directed, it did not allow any of the actors to overstep their roles. The steadiness with which the story progressed, I could have watched it for hours more. Again, it was as though Murphy’s portrayal of Mr. Church toned the entire movie, even the frames where he wasn’t present. And Robertson’s character did its best to compliment, reminding us that home is where you can trust to put your roots down.
Recommendation: Oh, yes, you must! Whenever you feel a bit down on luck, this movie is sure to make you feel more grounded. Although I really missed Murphy’s toothy grins, it might be my favorite movie of his now.
Title The Lunchbox
Starring Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Director Ritesh Batra
Writer(s) Ritesh Batra (screenplay), Vasan Bala (Hindi dialogue consultant)
Genre Drama Romance
Release Date September 20, 2013
Filming Location Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Parental Guidance Rated PG for thematic material and smoking
IMDB Rating 7.8
Synopsis: Ila (Nimrat Kaur) leads a mundane life of an average Indian housewife, where her days are occupied by seeing her husband and daughter off to work and school, respectively, then gossiping with the upstairs elderly woman whom she calls “auntie” by shouting out the kitchen window as she prepares meals for her family and carries on doing daily housekeeping. Lately, her husband has been absentminded about their relationship and, on the advice of her neighboring auntie, she begins preparing sumptuous lunches to win him back that she sends off with the famously efficient Mumbai Dabbawalas (lunchbox service) to his workplace. By a fluke, this lunchbox ends up at the desk of an elderly widower, Sajan (Irrfan Khan) who is an accountant on the cusp of retirement from a place he has worked for 35 years. Sajan enjoys the delicious meal and when the lunchbox returns home to Ila, it is completely empty, i.e. every bowl in the tiffin carrier is wiped clean. Excited by this unexpected turn of events, Ila waits for her husband to return home and compliment her. However, not only is he as aloof as ever, when Ila asks him if he liked the meal, he says “the aloo gobi (potato-cauliflower stir fry) was okay”, and Ila realizes he received the wrong lunchbox. Her upstairs auntie advises her to put in a note inside the lunchbox the next day to find out where her meal goes, which Ila reluctantly does, telling this stranger the box was for her husband. Sajan finds the letter, eats the delicious meal but, being the dry codger that he is, his reply constitutes of only two lines: “Dear, Ila, the food was very salty today.” Ila’s neighbor advises her to put extra chili in the food the next day and she again complies reluctantly. Sajan gets the message and becomes more tactful in his replies. Over time, Ila finds that she looks forward to his replies just as Sajan enjoys hearing about her days, her marital anxieties, and sometimes even offering advice gleaning from his own satisfying domestic experiences. Sajan also shares about his last days in office and the antics of the new replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), whom he is training to take his post.
Experience (some spoilers): If I were to describe this movie with one simple line, I would say, “It’s a gratifyingly romantic story with no fuss and no muss”.
The screenplay, the direction, the editing was all done with the aim to satisfy the story and nothing more. There are no superficial elements, no extra scenes, and no irrelevant dialogues to detract or titillate the audience. We are immediately taken to show Ila preparing that significant first lunch for her husband and then Sajan’s reaction to the meal. If one does not see the trailer or read the synopsis, one would think Sajan is her husband until another man walks in through her front door that first evening, and hence, commiserate with her anticipation. And in this way, the audience is made to share in each season of emotions as they take turn to appear: anticipation, irritation, empathy, sympathy, surprise, humor, disappointment, and hope. In fact, so well is the movie directed and edited, that there is an overall dry appeal to the storytelling, effectively capturing Sajan’s eccentric nature and Ila’s frustrating home conditions. Even when the movie cuts to comic relief with Sajan’s interludes with Shaikh, the senior’s less-than-welcoming attitude towards the junior’s enthusiasm to be trained, the movie picks up clean humor as we witness Shaikh finally penetrating and melting Sajan’s heart, which was already softening with his daily letter exchanges with Ila. And the fact that there are these montages to depict the lives and efficiency of the Dabbawalas only added to the drama and is such a fit tribute to the theme.
I especially enjoyed the fact that Ila and Sajan do not meet throughout the movie and still manage to fall in love. There is nothing superficial or artificial about their relationship. It’s a search of companionship that has transformed into something more sustainable. It is endearing to see this older gentleman, so resigned to living a life of retirement convalescing in a nursing community, take painstaking care in his appearance the morning he is to meet Ila only to stand her up; or the way she sends him an empty lunchbox the next day to give him a “silent treatment” and he accepts it readily, sending her an apology, explaining that he went to see her but lost his courage when he saw how beautiful she was and how old he is. It is a moment rich with impact when he explains that he realized that morning that he could “smell his grandfather” on himself. I was actually able to imagine what that could smell like – starched cotton, soap, talcum and Old Spice aftershave. I could feel his humiliation and sympathize with him thoroughly.
There is no point in discussing the acting of any individual actor in this movie. Every actor, starting from the three starring roles to the lunchbox courier man to even the faceless auntie upstairs, performed their roles with economy. They were each a credit to the art of their profession yet made their efforts seem artless. Without a doubt, the movie has been made on a small budget (so small that there is a copy error – ‘Reseach’ – in the end-credit roll) cinema but what budget they had was very effectively allocated.
Recommendation: Even though the movie is weaved with the use of Hindi, I would ask movie lovers and fiction writers to watch it alike. Not watching this movie would be letting a masterpiece slip by.
She allowed the foamy tides of the ocean to invade her patch of the sand, gradually stealing the ground from beneath her with their assaults. The rush of water rolling through the loose dirt tickled her soles in further attempts to make her lose her foothold. She dug in her heels, her toes. Years of being knocked to the linoleum had earned her, at least, that much grit.
After devastation, there was only freedom.
Title The Book of Love (originally titled The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea)
Starring Jason Sudeikis, Maisie Williams, Jessica Biel
Director Bill Purple
Written By Robbie Pickering and Bill Purple
Release Date January 13, 2017
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic content, language and drug materials
IMDB Rating 5.5
Synopsis: Henry is your average joe, his creativity only peeking out when he is off designing architecture for his real estate developer company, which is what he is brilliant at. The only thing that keeps his life from fading into the mundane is his oddball wife, Penny, whom he monikers hurricane. Penny tries to stamp her mark on Henry’s life by pushing him to do the eccentric things she lays out and simply “be bold!” Penny is expecting to deliver their first born in the coming month and he just gets an offer to be made partner at his office when Penny has a fatal road accident and Henry’s life is turned upside down. Recovery comes in the form of Millie, a homeless girl rummaging through his garbage. They interact over a cabinet he is ready to dispose of that she could use and she comments that the magenta sneakers he is wearing with his suit “is the shits”, which is what Penny had said to convince him to put them on the morning before she died, and he suddenly remembers that the last promise he had made to Penny was to help out the homeless girl who goes through their garbage. After a bit of harmless stalking, Henry discovers Millie is trying to build a raft to cross the Atlantic Ocean and he decides to dedicate all his time in helping her and in the process rediscovering his reason to go on.
Experience: Given the number of book-turned-movies playing at the cinemas these days, amazingly The Book of Love is not a book turned into movie. I walked into this movie without having seen the trailers or reading the synopsis, which in itself is very unusual for me. But I have always loved that Peter Gabriel song “The Book of Love” and find Jason Sudeikis one of the more versatile but underrated actors of Hollywood so it wasn’t difficult to hit the play button with so little nod to movie prerequisites. It turned out to be one of those uncalculated risks that provide the exact morale your life needs at the time.
While the plot was not something I would call riveting, the script has been very well written. Despite the lack of brief on its premise, I could pick up on the cues of what was about to come early on. The director cut straight to laying out who the lead characters are, that something was about to happen to render upheaval into this young couple’s lives. In fact, I could tell Penny (Jessica Biel) would die soon as she made Henry (Sudeikis) promise he would take care of the homeless girl if he meets her. I could also tell how much Henry doted on Penny by the way he gave in to her every whimsy regardless of the level of contrast they drew to his personality as well as work life (wearing the magenta sneakers with his suit to a major career altering meeting). I could smell the devastation brewing but not in the way that the end was given away. I did not feel like, oh! It’s just another movie about a guy getting over his wife’s death, I was intrigued by the idea of how… how will Millie (Maisie Williams) the homeless girl help him get over her death, how did he come to love her even? Obviously Millie is too young to be of romantic interest, which would have been just abhorrent so soon after Penny’s death.
The cinematography of the movie also sets the mood. The color scheme, mostly muted tones to set the atmosphere of loss with the only contrast allowed in the spaces of the house where Penny, who was also an artist, spent most of her time, like the kitchen or the bedroom. There is a lot of clutter everywhere that Henry goes, as though he needs to find a way to draw himself out of the rubble. The director used a lot of montages in the movie to pace the travel through time, both in flashbacks as well as how Henry’s life progresses. There are two junctures of the movie portraying the moments of changes in Henry’s life that really resonated with me. First, at the wake at the house, where everyone moves in slow motion, discussing the death matter-of-factly while Henry sits ignored until he really attempts to isolate himself. The other is when Julia (Mary Steenburgen), Penny’s mother triggers him into a panic attack when she pushes him into realizing that he might be having a breakdown as he risks his career to build a homeless girl build a raft to cross the Atlantics. Pivotal moments when Henry is both at his worst and his best because after each panic attack, he works out a puzzle, somehow left behind by Penny.
Which brings me to the overall theme of the movie. A bit of study online showed that the most highlighted quote from the movie is “Sometimes, things are better when they’re not perfect.” But I felt what defined the movie best was “Death ain’t about the people who died anyway. It’s about the ones who have the shit luck of having to go along without ‘em.” The central trope of the movie depicts how each character deals with Penny’s death. There is Henry, who after withdrawing into himself focuses his energy into fulfilling his last promise to Penny by helping Millie and thereby pushing further the moment when he must truly accept her absence in his life. There is Julia, who strives for control in Penny’s death just as she has during her life, and focuses on the minutest details involving the funeral, the obituary, charity, etc. as though it is just another responsibility she must take care of – clearly, her daughter leaving the world before her is a burden, especially given the guilt of never cherishing the time she had her. There’s Henry’s boss, Wendell (Paul Reiser) who lacks even the basic sense of empathy to put aside the company goals to allow Henry the time to grieve but you can also see how he is embarrassed by this lacking. There are even “Dumbass” (Orlando Jones) and Pascal (Richard Robichaux), the guys who were working on the renovation of the house and who were endeared by Penny who took care of them while they were around, who take it upon themselves to help Henry through his grief. Without revealing too much, in the end you get to see even Millie had a reason to deal with Penny’s death. But there is a likeness in the way both Henry (for Penny) and Millie (for her father) use fulfilling promises and the lost dreams to get over their own losses, which sort of answers the conundrum of the movie. I enjoyed how this theme remains consistently throughout the movie as each character’s arcs are developed.
When speaking of the characters, of course something must be said about the actors’ portrayals of them. First and foremost, I was thoroughly convinced by Sudeikis. Despite being a comic hero, he was able to invoke the tragedy Henry undergoes. In fact, I especially enjoyed the nuance he rendered the role with subtle moments of comic disaster he ends up in. Initially, I felt it a bit unbelievable that he could be propelled to fixate on the raft-building so soon after Penny’s death but his motivation came out to dispel that disbelief. Another actor I felt did a good job was Jones. He took what minimalist role he had and really bit into it. Williams, on the other hand, though played the other lead role, did not come into character until halfway through the movie. However, that might also be because her bayou drawl was a bit contrived and unnecessary even to the plot. Also, I could see how narration by Millie created bridges to allude to each segment of the movie, I did not really see why it had to be there. The only actor that really was the oddball was Biel’s. But while Penny the oddball was a necessary and endearing element, Biel was something the movie could have done without. Biel just did not have the ethereal quality that Penny needed to make her peculiarities blossom. In fact, Biel looked a bit haggard all through.
Recommendation: Again, if plots are dead important to you, I would suggest skip the movie. It is a bit whimsical yet ordinary, which the narrator warns of in the prologue of the movie. However, if you just like good character building, acting and enjoy a good script and direction, you will enjoy this movie like I did
I took English Literature for my ‘A’ Levels and I’m embarrassed to admit that despite being an avid reader and already a professional writer (I had a few art school caliber scripts, a magazine article and some copywriting for which I’d been, amazingly, financially compensated), I barely passed the subject. It was not that I was not any good at it. Actually, I managed to pick up quite a few good tricks to dissecting, analyzing and criticizing the blood, sweat and ink of another. To redeem myself, I can only cry that I had really slow penmanship whereas the Cambridge University Syndicate of GCSE has a warped sense of accomplishment when marking exam papers – quality counts for nothing if you can’t back it up with plenty of word counts. And I have this teensy-weensy problem with editing and reediting my work and time management thereof. As you can see, I have some unresolved angst there, for which I cannot even completely blame them.
In any case, one of the important lessons I learnt from my various literature professors was distinguishing recurring themes – how tiny details in the descriptions, narratives and dialogues can link to a central theme – or sometimes more than one central theme – and present the bigger picture. These little details that reinstate the theme would be subtle and sublime and sophisticated. Often I would miss them during the first reading (for which I am thankful because looking for them can ruin the basic purpose of reading literature – entertainment). Often I would find them exhausting to memorize to refer to later during exams. Often I would be delighted by their discoveries and intricacies. Often I would see them where they did not really exist! This was not the case with 44 Charles Street.
For all the subtlety of mannerism that the central character of this novel, Francesca Thayer, enjoyed in others, subtlety is not what Steel dealt with while beating the central concerns of the character in the head. For example, I had no problem understanding that it was an important aspect and setback in Francesca’s life that her mother was obsessed with getting married and that this played a significant role in Francesca’s evasion to matrimony – because this very fact was repeated throughout the book and not in the subtext alone but with explicit narratives and often dialogues. I suppose it helped set the mood but I found it exhausting to have to read about so many times. Then again, as far as getting the big picture and coming to a full circle, Francesca does end up committed to a man by the end of the novel despite her aversion to marriage being the cause of her breakup with her longtime boyfriend in its opening chapter.
Steel follows all the standard regulations of writing a fully robust piece of literature – standards that make it great literature. And what is great for me is that this novel also follows the standards of my favorite genre – women’s literature. The novel begins with emotional and financial crises of the central character, which is a woman, and follows through a series of upheavals and resolutions and further traumas, some of which are elemental and many of which are social, that help reshape her perception about human relationships. Through conflicts and resolutions, Francesca is able to open up herself to the idea of welcoming others into her life despite previous prejudices and fill in the biggest void that she had been harboring since childhood – to find a love that fit her mentality and a family where she may belong.
But really, take it from someone for whom English is officially a “second language” (because of my place of birth), that this book is splendid for someone who is just beginning to grasp the nuances of the language. This attribute of the novel was slowly creeping into my subconscious as I progressed through the book but really hit me in this particular scene [here is where I’ll do a bit of that referencing I learnt during ‘A’ Levels] where Francesca and her love interest (I don’t want to give away the story for anyone who hasn’t read it) is about to go out on their first date:
‘So what did you tell Marya and Charles-Edouard?’ [her love interest] repeated the question. She hadn’t answered.
‘I told them you hate their food and wanted to go out for a decent dinner.’ With two of the most famous chefs in the world cooking daily meals for them, it was admittedly hard to justify going out. But this was different.
‘Very amusing.’ He knew she hadn’t really said that.
‘I told Marya you invited me to dinner.’
A person who communicated in the English language on a regular basis would be able to pick up the sarcasm in Francesca’s tone of dialogue without Steel having to spell it out that ‘He knew she hadn’t really said that’ whereas a novice in the English novel readership wouldn’t. So this book really is a spell-everything-out kind of book, which would be understandable if Steel was concerned about meeting the reading capacity of her readers worldwide. But this novel is riddled with such scenes or narratives. And unfortunately, this sometimes killed the mood for me just as it did with Steel’s habitual repetitions of explicit thematic statements. I was really beginning to enjoy the development of Francesca’s romantic liaison and the humorous rapport she was building with her love interest, but having to read through all of that explanation in the middle of potentially witty dialogue was sheer teeth-grinder.
As you may notice, I have really mixed opinion of this novel. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was very well conceptualized the way the characters developed and the story developed, how it all coordinated to reach a sensible full-bodied conclusion, how the scenes were all plausible and how I could connect that every scene in this novel may actually happen in real life. As a chick lit lover and writer who constantly has to fight the sarcasm and skepticism of readers who find romance novels and women’s literatures one-tracked and “easy on the intellect”, I think having this book on our corner of the library is a big gold star for us. But in the same tone one of my robust heroes would say, with frustration but endearment, “Hell, woman! I get what you mean. Enough with the communication.”
But what do I know? And I do not say this with sarcasm. Danielle Steel is an author who is to be rightfully revered for having written over 100 novels, of which a quarter have been filmed, whereas I am still struggling to complete my first and second at the same time and am publishing one online on my blog so that readers may get used to reading my work for free and publishers take notice of me. She is the 4th bestselling author of all time and current bestselling author alive. Bless her! And I hope one day I would be as conscientious an author as her.
My point is, those of you who haven’t read this book yet, please do – it’s good. Even if it drags through sometimes, you can skip a couple of paragraphs here and there. For those of you who have read it, I will welcome your feedback on it as well as on what I have written about it here.
Read Chapter 10 before you continue…
True to his words, Matthew was back within the first hours of the next morning while Elaina was out checking the pastures. He rode up to meet her on a robust ebony stallion that turned out to be Marty again and she was pleased to see how well he was riding on his own, needing little guidance from Jonny, who had obviously taken it upon himself to escort the beginner through his morning lessons safely. When Elaina complimented Matthew on his quick learning abilities, Matthew responded jubilantly by demonstrating a round of antics, running circles around the lady he was trying to impress. Elaina and Jonny both laughed good-naturedly but the latter audience felt bound to throw in a word of caution or two here and there.
Once Matthew settled down and began guiding his horse to a jaunty trot beside Elaina’s own Palomino, he informed her that with the riding lessons he was taking from Jonny in return of the photography lessons he was imparting, he was falling behind his set schedule on the photo shoots. Elaina told him she understood if he needed to get back and chased him away to work on his series instead of loitering around her all day, creating distractions. Before he left, however, Matthew procured a promise from her that she would visit the pub that evening so he could meet her there. Though she seldom visited the town on weeknights, seeing how little time Matthew had remaining in Lainie’s Creek, she readily agreed and waved them goodbye with a sense of exhilaration.
With the semi-date at Stone’s Waterhole in the horizon, Elaina worked through the rest of her morning chores with a lighthearted sprint. Unfortunately, Hayden had other plans for her mood when she got back to the stables. While she was brushing down her horse, her older brother stormed into the barn in a huff.
“What bee has been bugging you, Big B?” she joked, unaware of her role in her brother’s sour disposition.
“Tyler and I finally discovered how that Hereford got loose on the other side of the fence. Seems like it took the same route your new love interest took the other day to trespass on to our land. He failed to mention to us the loose stumps in the fence he had crossed to get to our side of the border.”
Elaina’s hand stilled over her horse’s back, where she had been brushing the horse’s mane. She perfectly comprehended the kind of disaster that could be instigated by an oversight such as a broken fence on a cattle ranch but she also knew her brother’s aggravation had deeper roots. This was the first time she came across Hayden in solitary since the previous night’s encounter and it seemed that Hayden was just itching for a confrontation that she was only too happy to supply. “Matthew was lost, as you very well now know. And he is from the city so we can’t expect him to have the same survival sense about pasture enclosures as us. Why don’t you just tell me why you don’t like him so we can get over this embarrassing charade?”
Hayden recoiled in defense. “I see no cause to pay mind to City Boy one way or another. But don’t you think you’re jumping a little too fast to join his welcoming committee? You don’t know anything about the guy other than the fact that he’s here with the woman whom, by the way, you can’t even stand any longer.”
“And what business is that of yours,” asked Elaina, bristling, the tension that was rippling under her skin was spooking her horse, which protested in an abrupt whine. She unconsciously began patting its neck but her tone was no less cold as she continued, “Is that why you barged in on us last night? Because you don’t like his connection to Brooke?”
“Do I need any more cause for caution other than the fact that my sister is consorting with the man who’s visiting our town with the biggest traitor I’ve ever seen?”
“I can take care of myself!” shouted Elaina, now completely stepping away from her horse. She was shaking with fury that was not only targeted towards her meddling older brother. What her blossoming romance with Matthew had made her overlook had suddenly loomed back to the foreground of her consciousness – at the end of the day, when all things were said and done, she could not ignore the fact that her only connection to Matthew was drawn by and hanging by the balance of her relationship with Brooke.
Hayden sneered. “Yeah, we all know how well you took care of yourself the last time a city slicker came to town.”
Elaina flinched as though she had been slapped. She knew that he had witnessed the ugly scene between herself and her former best friend those five years ago and he knew that she knew he had witnessed it. But what was worse was both were acutely aware of how Elaina had crumpled after the incident, but this was the first time the incident was mentioned between them. It was a humiliating experience for her then and she could feel that humiliation wash over her even now. But the years had given her something to heal with that she had not possessed in the past – maturity enough to taste the lemons that life handed her with a pinch of salt. She mustered up that sense of grounded maturity now as she coolly answered her brother’s insult with dignity that she feigned better than she felt. “That’s not fair and you know it. I had no control over what happened then. But since I’ve already been there before, I’ll know how to handle myself with greater poise this time, won’t I?”
Hayden looked ashamed of himself and Elaina felt sorry for him. She knew he had her best interest at heart and, in many ways, her personality was mirror image to his – protective of those they loved, vigilant, self-sufficient and stubbornly set in their own ways. And it was this trait that had made Hayden burst out now to warn her about where she was storing her trust. “I just think you should act with more care and restraint with people who do not understand our ways of life,” he muttered in way of apology.
Elaina nodded with understanding but added, “Maybe I’m tired of being careful all the time. I’ve been careful for the last five years and I want to take a leap and experience life for the first time in my adulthood.”
Hayden’s brows furrowed with impatience that he had the presence of mind to iron away quickly. “Couldn’t you take a leap with someone closer to home? Someone who’ll stick around?”
“But that’s my point exactly. I don’t want to take a leap with anybody from home. If I land in a pile of cow dung on my first attempt, I don’t want the dung to be around for long to keep the memories stinking to high heavens, sort of speak,” Elaina laughed nervously.
Hayden arched his eyebrow at the image she painted with her words. “Is that what you’re up to? You really think you know what you’re doing?”
“I know that I know what I’m doing,” retorted she with convictions she prayed to God were not misplaced. “I’m just having a bit of fun, is all. Don’t worry so much,” she added, chiding him softly.
Hayden sighed. “I try not to. Really. But with Dad gone, it’s up to me to hold it together.”
His young features looked tired and older than their years and Elaina’s heart went out to him. She crossed the space between them and wrapped her arms around his torso, an act that she could not recall of having committed to in the recent past. “We’re all adults, Hayden. Well, at least all but Jonny. But even he will get there within the next twenty, thirty years.” They shared a laugh at their younger sibling’s expense, before she added, “You really don’t need to constantly look out for us.” She gave her brother an extra tight squeeze to show that she meant business and he responded with a squeeze of his own to tell her he appreciated what she was saying.
As Elaina stepped back, Hayden tipped her Stetson off her head just to lighten the mood and hide the gruffness in his voice as he said, “Don’t make an ass out of yourself over City Boy.”
Elaina bent down to swipe her hat off the ground and shoved it back on, shaking her head at her brother. “Just so we’re on the same page.”
It seems – after an alliance, so full of fun, laughter, and promises, such complaints, resentments, tears, followed by a prolonged tug-of-war that fought for its continued facility against the odds that propelled its termination – that the end, when it is fixed as irrevocable, should be met with such quiet. The quiet that has settled on this battlefield seems almost anti-climactic. The quiet that is the result of an absence in our conversations, our laughter, our disputes, is more confusing than it is painful. Shouldn’t the end be marked by something more volatile, more earthshattering?
Someone should die, someone should marry, someone should rejoice! For it is freedom, we sought, from the tangled web of resentments that we wove. It is freedom, we sought, from the intoxication we called love that ensnared our senses and fogged our reasons – for and against.
But alas! It is only quiet. You are no longer with me; we are never to meet again. But do you think of me still, I wonder. Can you, too, feel the quiet of my absence? But it is a question I must only ask into the void, an answer that I may not expect but in void. Because all that remains is quiet – more elusive than silence (where, at least, comfort lies).