Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

★★★★★ (5/5)

That’s what it is, an enormous, obscene delusion – this idea that people have to resign from real life and ‘settle down’ when they have families. It’s the great sentimental lie of the suburbs, and I’ve been making you subscribe to it all this time

What an incredible honour it is to have come across this gem of a book and be riveted and enthralled by its sheer brilliance. Richard Yates’ masterful depiction of a typical 1950s American household in “Revolutionary Road” is but a smokescreen for the internal hypocrisies played out by an enigmatic young couple, the Wheeler’s, who are too steeped in their own delusions to comprehend the finer intricacies of reality.

He had taken command of the universe because he was a man, and because the marvelous creature who opened and moved for him, tender and strong, was a woman

This is a story of the loquacious, young Frank Wheeler, an enthusiastic and eager thirty-year old man who is mired in professional and personal mediocrity. His wife is April Wheeler, an ardent dreamer, subjugated to a suburban lifestyle of a homemaker and a mother. What appears to be an impeccable match, a seamless living situation, with a nice house and two children, is in fact a façade of the most tragic proportions.

What a subtle, treacherous thing it was to let yourself go that way! Because once you’d started it was terribly difficult to stop; soon you were saying “I’m sorry, of course you’re right,” and “Whatever you think is best,” and “You’re the most wonderful and valuable thing in the world,” and the next thing you knew all honesty, all truth, was as far away and glimmering, as hopelessly unattainable as the world of the golden people

On the surface, thematic concerns revolve around the superficiality of a marriage and all its undertakings – sacrifice, compromise, and understanding. On a deeper level, the story cries out for individualism even in an institution as socially binding as a marriage. Thwarted hopes and dreams come clashing with spousal expectations. Add to this the Wheeler’s frantic dependency on a grand delusion that they craft for themselves, that is moving to France once and for all, and their marriage becomes embroiled in chaos and turmoil that torpedoes fast towards an inevitable tragedy.

All he would ever need, it was said, was the time and the freedom to find himself

April insists on moving abroad, in hopes to recapture the lost adventure of a past life she had unlived. But her unforeseen pregnancy shatters her dreams once again. She feels wedged in this suburban lifestyle, fulfilling conventional roles of a mother and a wife. In nudging Frank to agree to her decision to move abroad, she plays on his insecurities too albeit unconsciously. Frank is stuck in an unimaginative job, a career that is dull with no exciting future. Relocation would help him with introspection and enough time to realise what he really wants from his life. She feels responsible for him and uses this as an impetus to facilitate her husband’s shortcomings. And with silent apprehensions, he agrees to her grand designs.

“Don’t you know? You’re the most valuable and wonderful thing in the world. You’re a man.” And of all the capitulations in his life, this was the one that seemed most like a victory. Never before had elation welled more powerfully inside him; never had beauty grown more purely out of truth; never in taking his wife had he triumphed more completely over time and space

This is where Frank Wheeler falters. He uses April’s pregnancy as a crutch to get out of a potentially risky situation. He is an active participant in her fantasies and propagates them further, but when the time comes to make a decision, he backs down and instead of being supportive, vindicates April’s condition. His reasons are unjustified; insulting April’s sanity, condemning her first for thinking about abortions and then blaming her for not going through it, accusing her past motivations and doubting her womanhood. Much vile is spewed against each other which only results in simmering tensions that will eventually boil over.

Wasn’t it likely, after all, that a girl who’d known nothing but parental rejection from the time of her birth might develop an abiding reluctance to bear children?

Is April at fault for desiring a radical change in her otherwise boring life? Should Frank feel guilty for wanting to give their monotonous suburban life another chance? Are they to be blamed for wanting an escape from “the hopeless emptiness” of it all? With a third child on the way, economical means hinder their plans but as John Givings aptly puts it, “Money’s always a good reason, but it’s hardly ever the real reason.” Despite being at loggerheads, the monetary question has never come into play in April and Frank’s countless quarrels. They have rarely used it to reinforce their arguments. It can either be deliberate negligence on their parts, a fragment of the illusion they have constructed for themselves or perhaps they are too disinterested to mull such details of a realistic lifestyle.

This was deadlock. If everything he said was “just words,” what was the point of talking? How could any possibility of speech prevail against the weight of a stubbornness as deep as this?

Together, the Wheelers’ have a toxic view of life around them. They belittle the Campbells and Givings’ for their snooty approval to the suburban lifestyle. For the Wheelers’, other families have given up and withdrawn to their tedious routines but only they have the intellectual capacity and spirit to be audaciously in charge of their lives and retake control. This is just another deception they have allowed themselves to believe in. This tendency to ridicule others despite being on the same level as them can be owed to the fact that the Wheeler’s are younger than anyone around them. What has not dawned on them yet is that exceptionality is not a means to happiness.

How decadent can a society get? Look at it this way. This country’s probably the psychiatric, psychoanalytical capital of the world. Old Freud himself could never’ve dreamed up a more devoted bunch of disciples than the population of the United States – isn’t that right?

The marital discord paired with individual confusion and inability to relate or fully comprehend another human being can all be boiled down to absolute discontent – a malaise of a post-war society. Despite all tangible comforts, the Wheelers’ are inherently dissatisfied with their situation. Their indulgences are evident of the fact that despite having it all, they choose to remain unhappy. Their myopic view on life lacks gratitude. This begs the question, are they not entitled to wishing for more? Is this all these is to it – getting married, having kids and then falling in another cycle, waiting for the children to get married and bear grandchildren? When does this all end? The relentlessness of societal norms, its propagation and survival are indeed dismal inquiries. But heartfelt gratitude eases these troubles, or at least gives such queries a disproportionate precedence over other more immediate concerns.

He was grateful that however uneasy the rest of his life had turned out to be, it had once contained enough peace to give him pleasant dreams

The middle class has always been afflicted by ingratitude and self-indulgence. Frank Wheeler epitomises the mercenary attitude of a typical 50s man, with no regard for sincerity. April too is corrupted by thanklessness. Unrealistic desires thrive in such conditions and expectations are built and broken on such foundations. The tragedy that ensues was by no means a revelation; it was in the makings ever since April and Frank unduly committed themselves to grand illusions of what life had in store for them. They fabricated a future and were stifled under its duress of unfulfilled commitments and expectations.

People did change, and a change could be a bloom as well as a withering, couldn’t it?

This is an overwhelming story, a powerful take on individuality in face of capitalism and collectivism. Richard Yates makes compelling arguments in the perpetual debate of choice and fate. With stunning, crisp and beautiful prose, Yates mesmerises us in sadness and grief. We lament the tragic ending but are cognizant of the finer intricacies of life, of the power of communication, of silent understandings and sensible misgivings.

If you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone.


Beautifully crafted sentences

  • The trouble was that from the very beginning they had been afraid they would end by making fools of themselves, and they had compounded that fear by being afraid to admit it
  • He was neat and solid, a few days less than thirty years old
  • But for all its lack of structural distinction, his face did have an unusual mobility: it was able to suggest wholly different personalities with each flickering change of expression. Smiling, he was a man who knew perfectly well that the failure of an amateur play was nothing much to worry about, a kindly, witty man who would have exactly the right words of comfort for his wife backstage; but in the intervals between his smiles, when he shouldered ahead through the crowd and you could see the faint chronic fever of bewilderment in his eyes, it seemed more that he himself was in need of comforting.
  • The car overtook them, lighting up the sign and the tense shape of her back; then its taillights sped away and the drone of its tires flattened out to a buzz in the distance, and finally to silence
  • He couldn’t even tell whether he was angry or contrite, whether it was forgiveness he wanted or the power to forgive
  • It was turning into mindless, unrewarding work, the kind of work that makes you clumsy with fatigue and petulant with lack of progress, and it looked as if it would take all summer.
  • suggesting that miles of hot sand had been traveled for the finding of this oasis or that living breath itself had been held, painfully, against the promise of this release
  • Instead he shut his eyes and reached out and drew her close against him, crushing her cocktail apron in a desperate embrace, letting all his torment dissolve in pressing and stroking the inward curve of her back while he urged his groaning, muttering mouth into her throat
  • Anything in the world that could even faintly be connected with what his mother called “cultivated” or “nice” was anathema to Shep Campbell in those formative years, and everything she called “vulgar” was his heart’s desire
  • there were hundreds of other rude surprises in the overwhelming fact of New York itself, which turned out to be big and dirty and loud and cruel
  • He took each fact as it came and let it slip painlessly into the back of his mind, thinking, Okay, okay, I’ll think about that one later; and that one; and that one; so that the alert, front part of his mind could remain free enough to keep him in command of the situation
  • Deep down, what she’d loved and needed was work itself. “Hard work,” her father had always said, “is the best medicine yet devised for all the ills of man – and of woman,” and she’d always believed it
  • His whole adult life had been spent as a minor official of the seventh largest life insurance company in the world, and now in retirement it seemed that the years of office tedium had marked him as vividly as old seafaring men are marked by wind and sun
  • And he went on and on, modestly confessing his ignorance of technicalities, disparaging his right to speak as a prophet, earnestly losing his way in the labyrinthine structure of his sentences.
  • Then: “Is there any other kind?” she asked. “Don’t ‘moral’ and ‘conventional’ really mean the same thing?”
  • And that, of course, was the other, the really important difference: it didn’t upset him. It annoyed him slightly, but it didn’t upset him. Why should it? It was her problem
  • I feel sorry for you. Still, maybe you deserve each other. Matter of fact, the way you look right now, I’m beginning to feel sorry for him, too. I mean come to think of it, you must give him a pretty bad time, if making babies is the only way he can prove he’s got a pair of balls
  • Never undertake to do a thing until you’ve thought it through; then do the best you can.
  • The only real mistake, the only wrong and dishonest thing, was ever to have seen him as anything more than that
  • The whole point of grief itself was to cut it out while it was still honest, while it still meant something. Because the thing was so easily corrupted: let yourself go and you started embellishing your own sobs

​​ The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

★★★★★ (5/5)

No, gentlemen of the jury, they have their Hamlets, but we still have our Karamazovs!

I cannot begin to review this novel for I lack the audacity required to appraise and analyse this Russian brilliance, this mammoth of a book. It was intense, wild, terrible and beautiful. The conversations were profound, the characters even more magnificent – all wound with excellent brevity and wit. I was wary of an approaching tragedy from the first few pages of the novel – so potent was the tone of the story.

Russians are wretchedly delightful to read. They get to your head with their brazenness, the audacity of words and situations crafted simply to arouse your deepest, darkest inquiries. They are frightfully honest in their prose, which is bereft of all pretension. With the Russians, all is muddled but in an orderly fashion. They lay apart the various mechanisms of the mind for thorough inspection and only put it together as one whole haphazardly since they intend to dismember it again.

Above all in our age—it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For everyone strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realisation he ends by arriving at complete solitude. All mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them

 There is no consolation to be found, no reconciliations to be rekindled. All is left as is but with a slight difference – that of rankling, mind-numbing, tremor-inducing inquiry of the self. One is not given the slightest of prospects to skip an understanding. The characters are treated thoroughly and rashly, whether in their docility or culpability. No line can be drawn to set apart the protagonist and the antagonist for the question of good and bad is void, despite the thematic concerns of primarily all novels revolving around morality, around good and evil.

The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone

Following are passages that I indited whilst reading the novel.

On Book 7, Chapter II, “A Critical Moment”

So relentless and lacerating. Poor Alyosha!

Such a terrible read the Karamazov novel is. It’s brilliant but wounds the heart. This chapter I have just read was so severe. A saintly teacher, an elder of the monastery, Father Zosima dies and his student (our main character Alyosha) is utterly disheartened. The passing away of his mentor has left him disconsolate. And at this critical juncture, where faith and fickleness of heart are in contention, evil opportunists like Rakitin hover around him, intending to feed him the initial seeds of corruption, hoping for Alyosha to gulp on them and be condemned from goodness forever.

The great grief in his heart swallowed up every sensation that might have been aroused, and, if only he could have thought clearly at that moment, he would have realised that he had now the strongest armour to protect him from every lust and temptation. Yet in spite of the vague irresponsiveness of his spiritual condition and the sorrow that overwhelmed him, he could not help wondering at a new and strange sensation in his heart

And I feel like Alyosha is slipping away from virtuousness. I’m hoping against hope that it is not the case. The narrator calls him “my hero” so maybe Alyosha doesn’t falter. But the signs are there. He is slipping slowly and gradually.

And indeed it was not to please Grushenka he was taking Alyosha to her. He was a practical person and never undertook anything without a prospect of gain for himself. His object in this case was twofold, first a revengeful desire to see “the downfall of the righteous,” and Alyosha’s fall “from the saints to the sinners,” over which he was already gloating in his imagination

Alyosha, my friend. Stay strong. Do not give in to these strange and evil murmurings of those around you. They spew vile and whisper malice only to jolt you, to benefit from your wavering to appease their own evil conscious. In your irresolution of mind and spirit, they seek refuge as if to say “If Alyosha, a man so steady in his faith, can hesitate in matters of religion and spirituality, we must be excused for our indecisiveness and wickedness for we are far weaker in our comprehensions and beliefs than him.” In exploiting you in your moment of vulnerability, they strive for a haven from their own evil actions.

Dostoevsky Crafts Me a Nightmare

26th June, 2017 at 4:36 am

Day 29: I had forewarned myself to be wary of the Russian getting into my head. For I’ve had a sudden and most terrible fright tonight. As I lay on my side, I felt the devil had slid into the form of a snake and had grazed my skin only slightly to jolt me into a semi-conscious state. As I turned to my left, still half-asleep but gradually reconciling with my senses, I felt the snake nudging me to reveal all that I knew of Dimitri Karamazov’s trial. I recall waking up with a shudder, assuring myself of having come to senses only to find myself seeking the air-conditioners remote, which lay on one side of the pillow, and upon taking hold of it, I became aware of its shape resembling the very pestle with which the murder had been committed in the novel. My first thought was “My God! I have the evidence in my hand!” But fortunately, I was fully awake now. I surmised the darkness around me and placed myself safely upon my bed, beside my husband, in an unfamiliar room. I only say unfamiliar for I’m unaware of all its nook and crannies and every crisp, scraping sound at night makes me twitch with deathly anxiety.

The chapters concerning Ivan’s conversation with the devil and Dimitri’s subsequent trial having interspersed with tales of snakes being killed before our arrival to this hometown were the chief cause of my momentary nightmare. Dostoevsky is not a good night’s read. I’m thoroughly rankled. That being said, now that I’m almost nearing the finish line, I shall see these Karamazov’s to the very end.

On the Ending

“Father, give me a flower, too; take that white one out of his hand and give it me,” the crazy mother begged, whimpering. Either because the little white rose in Ilusha’s hand had caught her fancy or that she wanted one from his hand to keep in memory of him, she moved restlessly, stretching out her hands for the flower. “I won’t give it to anyone, I won’t give you anything,” Snegiryov cried callously. “They are his flowers, not yours! Everything is his, nothing is yours!” “Father, give mother a flower!” said Nina, lifting her face wet with tears. “I won’t give away anything and to her less than anyone! She didn’t love Ilusha. She took away his little cannon and he gave it to her,” the captain broke into loud sobs at the thought of how Ilusha had given up his cannon to his mother. The poor, crazy creature was bathed in noiseless tears, hiding her face in her hands.

The ending to Karamazov has completely shattered me. It’s overwhelmingly grievous and tragic. From Dimitri’s confession of returning back to Russia with his beloved, to Ilusha’s funeral and Alyosha’s farewell speech to the schoolboys at the stone, I’m consumed by sadness. Amidst such tragic consequences, still lies hope within the hearts of those who suffer the most. It is humility and modesty of the characters, above all, despite their fatal flaws that draws ethos and pathos. My heart weeps for poor Alyosha for he will remain solitary in his goodness; for Dimitri for the eventual elevation of his soul and the lofty thinking process which binds him to Russia forever in spite of the injustices levelled against him; for Grushenka for her audacious support of her beloved even when it falters, even when it leads to her exile; for Ilusha for his innocent death, for having impressed upon his fellow schoolboys the exalted virtues of kindness and honesty.


Favourite Quotations

Characterisation

  • ​But he was one of those senseless persons who are very well capable of looking after their worldly affairs, and, apparently, after nothing else
  • Besides the long fleshy bags under his little, always insolent, suspicious, and ironical eyes; besides the multitude of deep wrinkles in his little fat face, the Adam’s apple hung below his sharp chin like a great, fleshy goitre, which gave him a peculiar, repulsive, sensual appearance; add to that a long rapacious mouth with full lips, between which could be seen little stumps of black decayed teeth
  • In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once—that is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving anyone
  • As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom
  • People who saw something pensive and sullen in his eyes were startled by his sudden laugh, which bore witness to mirthful and light-hearted thoughts at the very time when his eyes were so gloomy
  • Miusov passed immediately from the most benevolent frame of mind to the most savage. All the feelings that had subsided and died down in his heart revived instantly.
  • Corrupt and often cruel in his lust, like some noxious insect, Fyodor Pavlovitch was sometimes, in moments of drunkenness, overcome by superstitious terror and a moral convulsion which took an almost physical form
  • Smerdyakov went on, staid and unruffled, conscious of his triumph, but, as it were, generous to the vanquished foe
  • But in those eyes and in the lines of her exquisite lips there was something with which his brother might well be passionately in love, but which perhaps could not be loved for long
  • She had a full figure, with soft, as it were, noiseless, movements, softened to a peculiar over-sweetness, like her voice
  • There was extraordinary impudence in his expression, and yet, strange to say, at the same time there was fear. He looked like a man who had long been kept in subjection and had submitted to it, and now had suddenly turned and was trying to assert himself. Or, better still, like a man who wants dreadfully to hit you but is horribly afraid you will hit him. In his words and in the intonation of his shrill voice there was a sort of crazy humour, at times spiteful and at times cringing, and continually shifting from one tone to another
  • And do you know she attracts me awfully even now, yet how easy it is to leave her
  • He was that sort of jealous man who, in the absence of the beloved woman, at once invents all sorts of awful fancies of what may be happening to her, and how she may be betraying him, but, when shaken, heartbroken, convinced of her faithlessness, he runs back to her, at the first glance at her face, her gay, laughing, affectionate face, he revives at once, lays aside all suspicion and with joyful shame abuses himself for his jealousy
  • As a matter of fact, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, I’ve always been disposed to regard you as, so to speak, more unfortunate than guilty. All of us here, if I may make bold to speak for all, we are all ready to recognise that you are, at bottom, a young man of honour, but, alas, one who has been carried away by certain passions to a somewhat excessive degree…
  • He could restrain himself on occasion, and in his relations with the teachers he never overstepped that last mystic limit beyond which a prank becomes an unpardonable breach of discipline
  • A look of firmness and intelligent purpose had developed in her face. There were signs of a spiritual transformation in her, and a steadfast, fine and humble determination that nothing could shake could be discerned in her.
  • She did not move to meet him, but her sharp, keen eyes were simply riveted on his face
  • You wouldn’t believe, Alexey, how I want to live now, what a thirst for existence and consciousness has sprung up in me within these peeling walls
  • He was an example of everything that is opposed to civic duty, of the most complete and malignant individualism
  • And why? Because he was of the broad Karamazov character—that’s just what I am leading up to—capable of combining the most incongruous contradictions, and capable of the greatest heights and of the greatest depths
  • Yes, such natures—oh, let me speak in defence of such natures, so often and so cruelly misunderstood—these natures often thirst for tenderness, goodness, and justice, as it were, in contrast to themselves, their unruliness, their ferocity—they thirst for it unconsciously. Passionate and fierce on the surface, they are painfully capable of loving woman, for instance, and with a spiritual and elevated love
  • the father is not merely he who begets the child, but he who begets it and does his duty by it.
  • Why am I bound to love him simply for begetting me when he has cared nothing for me all my life after?

On Religion

  • What was such an elder? An elder was one who took your soul, your will, into his soul and his will. When you choose an elder, you renounce your own will and yield it to him in complete submission, complete self-abnegation. This novitiate, this terrible school of abnegation, is undertaken voluntarily, in the hope of self-conquest, of self-mastery, in order, after a life of obedience, to attain perfect freedom, that is, from self; to escape the lot of those who have lived their whole life without finding their true selves in themselves
  • Oh! he understood that for the humble soul of the Russian peasant, worn out by grief and toil, and still more by the everlasting injustice and everlasting sin, his own and the world’s, it was the greatest need and comfort to find someone or something holy to fall down before and worship
  • His whole theory is a fraud! Humanity will find in itself the power to live for virtue even without believing in immortality. It will find it in love for freedom, for equality, for fraternity
  • When he realises that he is not only worse than others, but that he is responsible to all men for all and everything, for all human sins, national and individual, only then the aim of our seclusion is attained
  • For monks are not a special sort of men, but only what all men ought to be. Only through that knowledge, our heart grows soft with infinite, universal, inexhaustible love
  • All such questions are utterly inappropriate for a mind created with an idea of only three dimensions. And so I accept God and am glad to, and what’s more, I accept His wisdom, His purpose which are utterly beyond our ken; I believe in the underlying order and the meaning of life; I believe in the eternal harmony in which they say we shall one day be blended
  • It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept
  • The old man has told Him He hasn’t the right to add anything to what He has said of old. One may say it is the most fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism, in my opinion at least. ‘All has been given by Thee to the Pope,’ they say, ‘and all, therefore, is still in the Pope’s hands, and there is no need for Thee to come now at all. Thou must not meddle for the time, at least
  • Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity—to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it.
  • “Yes,” he said, “there was such a glory of God all about me: birds, trees, meadows, sky; only I lived in shame and dishonoured it all and did not notice the beauty and glory.”
  • Rakitin says that one can love humanity without God. Well, only a snivelling idiot can maintain that. I can’t understand it. Life’s easy for Rakitin

On Society

  • There is silent and long-suffering sorrow to be met with among the peasantry. It withdraws into itself and is still. But there is a grief that breaks out, and from that minute it bursts into tears and finds vent in wailing
  • If anyone touched him he would start and look at one as though awakening and bewildered. It’s true he would come to himself immediately; but if he were asked what he had been thinking about, he would remember nothing. Yet probably he has, hidden within himself, the impression which had dominated him during the period of contemplation. Those impressions are dear to him and no doubt he hoards them imperceptibly, and even unconsciously. How and why, of course, he does not know either. He may suddenly, after hoarding impressions for many years, abandon everything and go off to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage for his soul’s salvation, or perhaps he will suddenly set fire to his native village, and perhaps do both. There are a good many “contemplatives” among the peasantry.
  • Can a Russian peasant be said to feel, in comparison with an educated man? He can’t be said to have feeling at all, in his ignorance
  • Young Russia is talking about nothing but the eternal questions now. just when the old folks are all taken up with practical questions
  • To all other types of humanity these torturers behave mildly and benevolently, like cultivated and humane Europeans; but they are very fond of tormenting children, even fond of children themselves in that sense. it’s just their defencelessness that tempts the tormentor, just the angelic confidence of the child who has no refuge and no appeal, that sets his vile blood on fire
  • The world stands on absurdities, and perhaps nothing would have come to pass in it without them. We know what we know
  • No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration
  • Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort
  • They have science; but in science there is nothing but what is the object of sense. The spiritual world, the higher part of man’s being is rejected altogether, dismissed with a sort of triumph, even with hatred
  • They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less
  • Which is most capable of conceiving a great idea and serving it—the rich in his isolation or the man who has freed himself from the tyranny of material things and habits?
  • an unbelieving reformer will never do anything in Russia, even if he is sincere in heart and a genius
  • will come to pass that even the most corrupt of our rich will end by being ashamed of his riches before the poor, and the poor, seeing his humility, will understand and give way before him, will respond joyfully and kindly to his honourable shame
  • there are people of deep feeling who have been somehow crushed. Buffoonery in them is a form of resentful irony against those to whom they daren’t speak the truth, from having been for years humiliated and intimidated by them
  • I trust that youthful idealism and impulse towards the ideas of the people may never degenerate, as often happens, on the moral side into gloomy mysticism, and on the political into blind chauvinism—two elements which are even a greater menace to Russia than the premature decay, due to misunderstanding and gratuitous adoption of European ideas

Church and the State

  • I maintain, on the contrary, that the Church ought to include the whole State, and not simply to occupy a corner in it, and, if this is, for some reason, impossible at present, then it ought, in reality, to be set up as the direct and chief aim of the future development of Christian society
  • Every earthly State should be, in the end, completely transformed into the Church and should become nothing else but a Church, rejecting every purpose incongruous with the aims of the Church. All this will not degrade it in any way or take from its honour and glory as a great State, nor from the glory of its rulers, but only turns it from a false, still pagan, and mistaken path to the true and rightful path, which alone leads to the eternal goal
  • He would be cut off then not only from men, as now, but from Christ. By his crime he would have transgressed not only against men but against the Church of Christ
  • If it were not for the Church of Christ there would be nothing to restrain the criminal from evil-doing, no real chastisement for it afterwards; none, that is, but the mechanical punishment spoken of just now, which in the majority of cases only embitters the heart; and not the real punishment, the only effectual one, the only deterrent and softening one, which lies in the recognition of sin by conscience.
  • And there can be no doubt that the Church would look upon the criminal and the crime of the future in many cases quite differently and would succeed in restoring the excluded, in restraining those who plan evil, and in regenerating the fallen
  • A socialist who is a Christian is more to be dreaded than a socialist who is an atheist

On Justice

  • How should the rich know? They don’t explore such depths once in their lives. But at that moment in the square when he kissed his hand, at that moment my Ilusha had grasped all that justice means. That truth entered into him and crushed him for ever
  • I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony?
  • Equality is to be found only in the spiritual dignity of man
  • But it was justice, justice, he thirsted for, not simply miracles.
  • It is not for an insignificant person like me to remind you that the Russian court does not exist for the punishment only, but also for the salvation of the criminal!
  • “So he will perish an innocent victim!” exclaimed Kolya; “though he is ruined he is happy! I could envy him!” “What do you mean? How can you? Why?” cried Alyosha surprised. “Oh, if I, too, could sacrifice myself some day for truth!” said Kolya with enthusiasm. “But not in such a cause, not with such disgrace and such horror!” said Alyosha. “Of course… I should like to die for all humanity, and as for disgrace, I don’t care about that—our names may perish. I respect your brother!”

Beautifully crafted sentences

  • But go and get at the truth there, and then come and tell me
  • I understand what duty means, Grigory Vassilyevitch, but why it’s our duty to stay here I never shall understand
  • Too many riddles weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water
  • What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart
  • Understand, Alexey, that if you return to the world, it must be to do the duty laid upon you by your elder, and not for frivolous vanity and worldly pleasures
  • I will go away to another town—where you like—but I will watch over him all my life—I will watch over him all my life unceasingly.
  • but in the end that suffering will be softened and will pass into sweet contemplation of the fulfilment of a bold and proud design
  • For you’re torturing Ivan, simply because you love him—and torturing him, because you love Dmitri through ‘self-laceration’-with an unreal love—because you’ve persuaded yourself
  • And they are destroying others with them. It’s ‘the primitive force of the Karamazovs,’ as father Paissy said the other day, a crude, unbridled, earthly force
  • I’ve been sitting here thinking to myself: that if I didn’t believe in life, if I lost faith in the woman I love, lost faith in the order of things, were convinced, in fact, that everything is a disorderly, damnable, and perhaps devil-ridden chaos, if I were struck by every horror of man’s disillusionment—still I should want to live and, having once tasted of the cup, I would not turn away from it till I had drained
  • I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for
  • There has been no presence in my life more precious, more significant and touching. My heart is full of tenderness, and I look at my whole life at this moment as though living through it again
  • “Don’t cry, mother,” he would answer, “life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we won’t see it; if we would, we should have heaven on earth the next day.”
  • Later on I saw and fully realised that I perhaps was not so passionately in love with her at all, but only recognised the elevation of her mind and character, which I could not indeed have helped doing
  • Yet a vague but tormenting and evil impression left by his conversation with Ivan the day before, suddenly revived again now in his soul and seemed forcing its way to the surface of his consciousness.
  • Fragments of thought floated through his soul, flashed like stars and went out again at once, to be succeeded by others
  • There seemed to be threads from all those innumerable worlds of God, linking his soul to them, and it was trembling all over “in contact with other worlds.”
  • It is impossible to picture to oneself the shame and moral degradation to which the jealous man can descend without a qualm of conscience
  • He gave himself up to every new idea with passionate enthusiasm
  • Was not one moment of her love worth all the rest of life, even in the agonies of disgrace?
  • It was not so much that he failed to grasp certain reforms enacted during the present reign, as that he made conspicuous blunders in his interpretation of them
  • And he felt that, though his questions were unreasonable and senseless, yet he wanted to ask just that, and he had to ask it just in that way
  • “How is this? Where am I?” he muttered, not removing his coat nor his peaked sealskin cap. The crowd, the poverty of the room, the washing hanging on a line in the corner, puzzled him
  • When you are older, you’ll understand for yourself the influence of age on convictions. I fancied, too, that you were not expressing your own ideas
  • Not long ago I read the criticism made by a German who had lived in Russia, on our students and schoolboys of to-day. ‘Show a Russian schoolboy,’ he writes, ‘a map of the stars, which he knows nothing about, and he will give you back the map next day with corrections on it.’ No knowledge and unbounded conceit—that’s what the German meant to say about the Russian schoolboy
  • Intense, infinite compassion overwhelmed him instantly. There was a poignant ache in his torn heart
  • “From the vehemence with which you deny my existence,” laughed the gentleman, “I am convinced that you believe in me.” “Not in the slightest! I haven’t a hundredth part of a grain of faith in you!” “But you have the thousandth of a grain. Homeopathic doses perhaps are the strongest.
  • Here when I stay with you from time to time, my life gains a kind of reality and that’s what I like most of all
  • Listen, in dreams and especially in nightmares, from indigestion or anything, a man sees sometimes such artistic visions, such complex and real actuality, such events, even a whole world of events, woven into such a plot, with such unexpected details from the most exalted matters to the last button on a cuff, as I swear Leo Tolstoy has never invented. Yet such dreams are sometimes seen not by writers, but by the most ordinary people, officials, journalists, priests.
  • It was rather short, but circumstantial. It only stated the chief reasons why he had been arrested, why he must be tried, and so on. Yet it made a great impression on me. The clerk read it loudly and distinctly. The whole tragedy was suddenly unfolded before us, concentrated, in bold relief, in a fatal and pitiless light
  • If there hadn’t been a murder, they’d have been angry and gone home ill-humoured. It’s a spectacle they want!
  • Now we are either horrified or pretend to be horrified, though we really gloat over the spectacle, and love strong and eccentric sensations which tickle our cynical, pampered idleness. Or, like little children, we brush the dreadful ghosts away and hide our heads in the pillow so as to return to our sports and merriment as soon as they have vanished
  • You wanted to make yourself another man by suffering. I say, only remember that other man always, all your life and wherever you go; and that will be enough for you. Your refusal of that great cross will only serve to make you feel all your life even greater duty, and that constant feeling will do more to make you a new man, perhaps, than if you went there
  • My forgiveness is no good to you, nor yours to me; whether you forgive me or not, you will always be a sore place in my heart, and I in yours—so it must be….
  • So they murmured to one another frantic words, almost meaningless, perhaps not even true, but at that moment it was all true, and they both believed what they said implicitly.

Aphorisms

  • Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith
  • The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular
  • What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself
  • But they have only analysed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is marvellous
  • “Love life more than the meaning of it?” “Certainly, love it, regardless of logic as you say, it must be regardless of logic, and it’s only then one will understand the meaning of it. I have thought so a long time. Half your work is done, Ivan, you love life, now you’ve only to try to do the second half and you are saved.”
  • The stupider one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straight forward
  • Another can never know how much I suffer, because he is another and not I
  • The innocent must not suffer for another’s sins, and especially such innocents
  • nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom
  • what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread?
  • Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering
  • There have been many great nations with great histories, but the more highly they were developed the more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than other people the craving for world-wide union
  • It’s the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet, tender joy. The mild serenity of age takes the place of the riotous blood of youth
  • the whole world has long been going on a different line, since we consider the veriest lies as truth and demand the same lies from others
  • For we must love not only occasionally, for a moment, but for ever. Everyone can love occasionally, even the wicked can.
  • you remember in the night as you go to sleep, “I have not done what I ought to have done,” rise up at once and do it
  • And if you cannot speak to them in their bitterness, serve them in silence and in humility, never losing hope
  • But in some cases it is really more creditable to be carried away by an emotion, however unreasonable, which springs from a great love, than to be unmoved
  • If you know too much, you’ll get old too soon.
  • The study of the classics, if you ask my opinion, is simply a police measure, that’s simply why it has been introduced into our schools
  • People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

This is one of the very few instances in which the book is eclipsed by the brilliance and wholesomeness of the film. The novel on its own seems dry, flaky, too far removed from reality and existence of characters to indulge the reader with. There was no take-away after having finished the story but underlying messages of meaning of sanity, its perspective in society, the internal confusion and its physical manifestations were all better explored in the film version.

The brevity of the book comes at the cost of a vacuous understanding of our narrator’s world. As a memoir, Kaysen fails to establish herself as a reliable mouthpiece of the insane world she is thrust in against her will. Characters around her such as Lisa, Polly and Daisy are just that – mere characters sketched to complement the necessity of her world. They come out as real-life people only in the movie in which the characters and their situations are dealt with poignant sympathy.


Favourite Quotes

  • Scar tissue has no character. It’s not like skin. It doesn’t show age or illness or pallor or tan. It has no pores, no hair, no wrinkles. It’s like a slipcover. It shields and disguises what’s beneath. That’s why we grow it; we have something to hide
  • In our parallel world, things happened that had not yet happened in the world we’d come from
  • Actually, it was only part of myself I wanted to kill: the part that wanted to kill herself, that dragged me into the suicide debate and made every window, kitchen implement, and subway station a rehearsal for tragedy.
  • My hunger, my thirst, my loneliness and boredom and fear were all weapons aimed at my enemy, the world. They didn’t matter a whit to the world, of course, and they tormented me, but I got a gruesome satisfaction from my sufferings. They proved my existence. All my integrity seemed to lie in saying No.
  • Freedom was the price of privacy.
  • Cynthia was depressive; Polly and Georgina were schizophrenic; I had a character disorder. Sometimes they called it a personality disorder
  • Experience is thick. Perceptions are thickened and dulled Time is slow, dripping slowly through the clogged filter of thickened perception
  • Fantasies don’t include repercussions
  • Naked, we needed protection, and the hospital protected us. Of course, the hospital had stripped us naked in the first place—but that just underscored its obligation to shelter us.
  • “You spent nearly two years in a loony bin! Why in the world were you in there? I can’t believe it!” Translation: If you’re crazy, then I’m crazy, and I’m not, so the whole thing must have been a mistake. “You spent nearly two years in a loony bin? What was wrong with you?” Translation: I need to know the particulars of craziness so I can assure myself that I’m not crazy. “You spent nearly two years in a loony bin? Hmmm. When was that, exactly?” Translation: Are you still contagious?
  • Think of being in a train, next to another train, in a station. When the other train starts moving, you are convinced that your train is moving. The rattle of the other train feels like the rattle of your train, and you see your train leaving that other train behind. It can take a while—maybe even half a minute—before the second interpreter sorts through the first interpreter’s claim of movement and corrects it. That’s because it’s hard to counteract the validity of sensory impressions. We are designed to believe in them.
  • As far as I could see, life demanded skills I didn’t have. The result was chronic emptiness and boredom

Cosmopolis by Don Delillo

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

He wanted the car because it was not only oversized but aggressively and contemptuously so, metastasizingly so, a tremendous mutant thing that stood astride every argument against it.

“Cosmopolis” by Don Delillo is a stodgy account of a day in the life of stoic investment whiz-kid, Eric Packer, as he rides his limousine across Manhattan to get a haircut. His journey is interrupted by boisterous activity of the city: a presidential parade, an anti-globalisation protest and a funeral procession for a dead rapper. During his frustrating voyage, he also hosts a number of acquaintances and lovers in his limo, including his head of finance and various bodyguards, his wife and proctologist, his currency analyst and philosophical adviser. His ride is installed with modern gadgetry through which he observes and manipulates the market.

Money makes time. It used to be the other way around. Clock time accelerated the rise of capitalism. People stopped thinking about eternity. They began to concentrate on hours, measurable hours, man-hours, using labor more efficiently

Packer is seeped deep in hubris that leads to his eventual downfall. A man who “wants to be one civilization ahead of this one”. From the outset of the novel, there is a foreboding tone of self-destruction imminent in the story. The clunky, concrete jungle of New York with its grand illusions of Wall Street epitomise greed and capitalism and in Eric Packer we find these traits amalgamated with lust, callous indifference of others and a blatant disregard for morals and ethics of any sort. He may be a visionary but his actions are burning him and his business.

“What is the flaw of human rationality?” He said, “What?” “It pretends not to see the horror and death at the end of the schemes it builds. This is a protest against the future. They want to hold off the future. They want to normalize it, keep it from overwhelming the present

The horde of minor characters that make an appearance in and out of Packer’s limo add some colour to the otherwise cardboard-like, insubstantial plot premise. Despite thematic concerns regarding nature of violence, crowd mentality, counter-movements in culture, power and ever-increasing presence of technology in our midst, the book fails to make its mark. The narrative style is rebarbative to the point of utter annoyance. It feels choppy and stolid due to which the essence of the story gets diluted.

All in all, what could have been an exciting and compelling premise is entirely compromised owing to the style of narration. This was my first Delillo book, but its self-indulgence won’t discourage me from reading “White Noise.”


Favourite excerpts

  • He didn’t know what he wanted. Then he knew. He wanted to get a haircut.
  • The atrium had the tension and suspense of a towering space that requires pious silence in order to be seen and experienced properly
  • It was nine hundred feet high, the tallest residential tower in the world, a commonplace oblong whose only statement was its size. It had the kind of banality that reveals itself over time as being truly brutal. He liked it for this reason. He liked to stand and look at it when he felt this way.
  • he knew they would do it repeatedly into the night, our night, until the sensation drained out of it or everyone in the world had seen it, whichever came first
  • Sex finds us out. Sex sees through us. That’s why it’s so shattering. It strips us of appearances
  • It is what people think they see in another person that makes his reality. If they think he walks at a slant, then he walks at a slant, uncoordinated, because this is his role in the lives around him, and if they say his clothes don’t fit, he will learn to be neglectful of his wardrobe as a means of scorning them and inflicting punishment on himself.
  • What people discard could make a nation
  • I thought I would spend whatever number of years it takes to write ten thousand pages and then you would have the record, the literature of a life awake and asleep, because dreams too, and little stabs of memory, and all the pitiful habits and concealments, and all the things around me would be included
  • He felt the street around him, unremitting, people moving past each other in coded moments of gesture and dance. They tried to walk without breaking stride because breaking stride is well-meaning and weak but they were forced sometimes to sidestep and even pause and they almost always averted their eyes. Eye contact was a delicate matter. A quarter second of a shared glance was a violation of agreements that made the city operational. Who steps aside for whom, who looks or does not look at whom, what level of umbrage does a brush or a touch constitute? No one wanted to be touched. There was a pact of untouchability. Even here, in the huddle of old cultures, tactile and close-woven, with passersby mixed in, and security guards, and shoppers pressed to windows, and wandering fools, people did not touch each other.
  • We are not witnessing the flow of information so much as pure spectacle, or information made sacred, ritually unreadable
  • Computer power eliminates doubt. All doubt rises from past experience. But the past is disappearing. We used to know the past but not the future. This is changing
  • Things wear out impatiently in his hands. I know him in my mind. He “And you. You’re keeping well?” “You know me, kid. I could tell you I can’t complain. But I could definitely complain. The thing is I don’t want to. He leaned into the room, upper body only, the old stubbled head and pale eyes. “Because there isn’t time,” he said.
  • Power works best when there’s no memory attached…Power works best when it makes no distinctions

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

★★★★☆ (4/5)

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream

“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is one of the very few horror books I’ve had a chance to read. I would best term it as psychological horror owing to my experience whilst reading the story which on a number of times sent chills running down my spine and thrice made me uncomfortably wary of my unsuspecting surroundings. Although I erred in reading it with breaks, only uninterrupted reading will do justice to the terror evinced from the story. The crisp narrative style lures the reader further into the folds of the story. One seeks a rationale behind the haunting, a logical reason, a physical history, some theory to consolidate facts with experience. But it is the very absence of such reasoning that adds to the unnerving action of the book.

It had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible tolerable length

The bloodcurdling horror of the book is chiefly derived from intangible elements such as the Hill House itself which, though is every bit physical, dispenses off a chilling aura. The house is alive and breathing, much like the four characters who come to reside in it temporarily as part of a study. Through anthropomorphising the house, it gains a character and weight of its own, being aware of its residents and transforming itself to first captivate the dwellers, entrap them and then claim their lives. The house acknowledges the weakest of the lot and plays psychological games with their conscious till they are no longer able to tell reality apart from fantasy.

“Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.”

There are no ghosts or phantoms roaming the hallways of Hill House. No poltergeists or spirits haunt its dizzyingly vibrant but cloistered rooms. Despite its shockingly eerie history, the dead lie dormant in their graves, there is no revenge to be sought, nor any spectres awaiting reprieve from this world. Hill House haunts itself, taking good measure of its occupants and enabling them to become overly attached to the house after which they would not desire to leave it. Any attempts at an escape results in death of the escapee on its very grounds. Physical confinements of the house, despite its expansive construction, causes psychological claustrophobia and the author weaves this nicely into her writing.

Around her the trees and wild flowers, with that oddly courteous air of natural things suddenly interrupted in their pressing occupations of growing and dying, turned toward her with attention, as though, dull and imperceptive as she was, it was still necessary for them to be gentle to a creation so unfortunate as not to be rooted in the ground, forced to go from one place to another, heart-breakingly mobile

The plot of the story is somewhat lose in terms of occurrences and situations that happen during the course of the novel. There are no significant or frightful events. Instead, the terror is derived from the psychological past and present of Eleanor Vance. We experience dread through her consciousness before and after Hill House infiltrates her psyche. At a young age, she had experienced a supernatural occurrence at her childhood house and much of her adult life had been dedicated to nursing her ailing mother. In accepting Doctor Montague’s invitation to reside in Hill House as part of his study of the paranormal, Eleanor is in fact desirous of good company. Despite her fantasies of solitude and seclusion, she longs for companionship. Eleanor is the first to seek camaraderie with other inhabitants, Theodora and Luke Sanderson who is the heir to the estate.

Her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair

Theodora is diametrically opposite to Eleanor yet they strike kinship at their first meeting. This bond soon dissolves as Eleanor’s inherent longing for isolation distances her from their blooming friendship. Eleanor also manages to dissociate herself with Luke who is infatuated by her during their brief stay in Hill House. As the house permeates Eleanor’s mind, she begins to break down. Doctor Montague’s character which so far had been nothing more than a cardboard caricature, filling in for a more wholesome character which may or may not make an appearance, suddenly begins to notice the stark changes in Eleanor’s behaviour. The three are alarmed and cautious but only Eleanor is nonplussed at her own transformation.

What a complete and separate thing I am, she thought, going from my red toes to the top of my head, individually an I, possessed of attributes belonging only to me

Another element of the story which intensifies its daunting aura is that of time. Much of the story follows Eleanor and Theodora’s endeavours despite the Doctor being the central figure which binds them all. Whilst the reader concentrates on what Eleanor and Theodora are preoccupied with, we remain wholly unaware of the whereabouts of the Doctor and Luke and the two caretakers of the house Mr. and Mrs. Dudley. The house is able to possess Eleanor in an incredibly short time, that is, within the first few days of their arrival.

Hill House, whatever the cause, has been unfit for human habitation for upwards of twenty years. What it was like before then, whether its personality was molded by the people who lived here, or the things they did, or whether it was evil from its start are all questions I cannot answer

From architectural confinement to being trapped by one’s past, the characters are wedged in Hill House. Luke is essentially stuck with this estate which he will come to own one day. Dr. Montague is stuck in a marriage with a controlling woman, in a career that promises no future prospects of success. Theodora is held fast by her carefree lifestyle. The Dudleys are ensnared by the house to perpetually offer their services to bring order to it. And Eleanor is entrapped by her haunting past, her loneliness in adult life and her fantasies which blur the line between real and unreal.

Nothing is ever really wasted, she believed sensibly, even one’s childhood

All in all, reading “The Haunting of Hill House” was an experience in itself. Frightening and stifling as it was, the evocative imagery of closed spaces further heightens our senses and makes us receptive to the slightest of oddities. Our curiosity runs high and dry. Despite the flatness of a few characters, the story comes full circle. The ending truly does justice to the terror manifested in the book. Highly recommended!