Monday, May 28, 2012

Home is where the heart is

           It amazes me when I realize its been twenty five years since this house was built. It looks like it has existed for much more. And after all these years of being its owner, I am finally handing it over to someone that I hope would take better care of it. I can only hope the new owner would understand how precious this house has been to me, to a few others who lived here in the course of time and in general, warm and cozy to many that chose to seek shelter.
           I take a walk slowly, taking care to tread gently lest I disturb the memories that seem to linger in every crack and crevice, nook, corner and dust swirl. I wonder about the things this house has seen, people it has observed, weathers it has braved and silence it has borne. The signs show. I’ve been a very erratic caretaker. I’ve renovated this house multiple times but never completely. It was always about fixing a temporary crack, or weak pipelines or a new coat of paint.
          There was this one time when an entire wing collapsed and I had to come down personally to oversee the reconstruction that turned out to be very expensive. I was advised against spending so much to fix a lost cause but I knew I wanted to. This was my house and it was my way of covering up for the guilt behind having neglected it long enough to collapse, in the first place.
         This house will always remain close to me for it was built when I was born and I developed an intimate friendship with it as I grew up. I know its layout like a drawing out of an anatomy book. I’ve been to every part of it, explored every room and staircase. It has so many warm corners to lounge in and a huge terrace where I used to sit and dream of conquering the world. It reminds me of those old houses you see down the countryside, enormous and tough, built with utmost taste and pride.
         There are parts of it that are bright, where the sun doesn’t have to figure out an entry. There are also parts of it that are dark, spots that were perfect for childhood mischief and storing truckloads of secrets, but ones that I’ve long stopped visiting. As a child, you don’t understand the meaning of fear but as an adult, fear scares you and the fact that you can sometimes not understand why, terrifies you further.
        There are so many paintings on the wall, procured from time to time, pictures I’ve loved and cherished, things that I request renters to retain. When they don’t relent, I have them moved to one of those many rooms that they are never to open, by written contract. With a house as huge as this, I can’t quite empty out all archives everytime someone moves in and logically, they won’t need so much room anyway.
        Like the house, I’ve seen good renters, bad and worse. I guess it comes with the ownership. There were some that took great care, retained my tasteful d├ęcor and added to make it better. Some suggested changes that made a corridor more beautiful or created more space and light. I took them sometimes and they never protested when I didn’t. They treated my house like they would treat theirs. I always grew sad when such renters moved away. There were also ones that caused mayhem and billed me for damages! I didnt’t think twice about kicking them out but one thing that I am not proud of is my lack of judgement with such kind of renters. I kept renting out the space to similar people quite often.
        I heave a deep sigh as I take another look at the house. It looks simple and compact from the outside but there are just so many levels on the inside that you could only discover by exploration. My gaze falls on this long crack on the wall opposite, that runs like a scar borne out of deep circumstances. I run a hand over it and remember working on it a while ago to fix it. I had succeeded in concealing it under a fancy new shade of paint but ever since talks about the new deal began, the house has come under intense scrutiny. Bad spots revealed, bright spots taken stock of, weak links and strong links noted, foundation tested and even some of the unopened rooms opened and studied.
        I can’t really complain because, like I said, I’ve been a lousy care taker, despite loving the house so much and it needs a fresh breath of life. The new owner is nice and considerate. I chose him out of all others interested because he seemed to know about handling houses and my gut told me I could trust him.

                                                 *   *   *

        I handed over the keys this morning and shook hands with the new owner. His sincere smile boosted my confidence a little higher. I took one final look at my house and walked on.

                                                 *   *   * 

       My husband got in beside me and we drove on. I leaned in on his shoulder and he accommodated me in his arms. With the heavy weight of being a caretaker, off my chest, I proceeded to fall into a well-earned, deep sleep, free of worry and trouble as he stroked my hair. The new owner of my house - my heart. 

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X - Book Review

           I began reading ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ with a justified assumption. This was yet another translation that was going to probably leave me yawning despite claiming to be a murder mystery. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Keigo Higashino’s award winning bestseller is out in the international market and is sweeping audiences world over. With valid reason at that.

           The story begins on a lazy routine morning introducing the insular lives of Yasuko Hanoaka and her daughter Misato Hanoaka. Yasuko works at a food outlet nearby and leads a simple uninterrupted life where she bothers no one and no one bothers her. The apartment next door is occupied by one Mr. Tetsuya Ishigami, who is a high school math teacher fond of the same lifestyle that Yasuko adopts, passionate about math, math and math. The only exception to his interests is Yasuko for whom he harbours a liking and frequents her shop to buy his lunch and have a look at her.

           All seems well until Shinji Togashi pays Yasuko a surprise visit. The man is a vile con, who was Yasuko’s ex-husband. It is revealed that Yasuko suffered a terrible time being married to him and left him after having summoned courage and money with great difficulty. She subsequently moved and changed jobs quite a bit until she was sure that Togashi was off their trail. Yet, there he was, back in her life and threatening to interfere with force. What follows is an innocent argument after which Yasuko pays Togashi to get him to leave. The situation is almost under control but one moment of misjudgment from the young Misato breaks hell out. She attacks Togashi with a flower vase intending to rid themselves of him for good. In the skirmish that follows, mother and daughter end up murdering Togashi in cold blood!

          As they lie wondering about their life turned upside down within a few minutes, their neighbor, the math teacher Mr. Ishigami, offers to help cover up the murder. And from there, the story picks up as a proper murder mystery. Ishigami is a stickler for simple logic, something that is evident from his teaching methods and the kind of research he does. The underlying genius that he uses to cover up Yasuko’s guilt is kept behind the screen and only revealed in bits and pieces as the story proceeds. Two detectives, Kusanagi and his assistant Kishitani investigate the case and with a combination of hunches and logic, include Yasuko as a suspect. But Ishigami’s master plot is as elaborate as a game of chess with every move anticipated and accounted for.

          When Kusanagi draws a blank with his leads, he approaches Professor Yukawa, nicknamed Detective Galileo, a mad-genius physicist who helps the police with tough investigations. Yukawa, as it turns out, is a friend of Ishigami, a long lost contact he rediscovers. With Yukawa joining the hunt for the murderer, things get tougher for Ishigami because now he has to account for the sharp deductive skills of his friend as well. How he does precisely that and how Yukawa counters his genius is what the rest of the story brings forward.

What I liked:

 - The fantastic and crisp translation by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander.  The narrative is very simple and very concise. There is not a single point of stagnation in the flow.

- Short chapters. I personally like it if a story is chopped into easy to read chapters that will allow you to take a breather in between and also maintain a smooth continuation.

- The absence of verbose descriptions that run to pages describing the place, people and setting. NIL. The story has the right amount of descriptions, the right number of characters, each of them distinguished in their own style and behavior.

- The pace of the story. Agreed, the story doesn’t fly like a Dan Brown plot but for a murder mystery, when authors normally tend to write so much to throw readers off track so that the end twist would be effective,  Higashino surprisingly maintains normal tone and narration, trusting the story to work on its own. I would say the trick worked because given the pace of the story, I was able to finish the book in four hours flat.

What didn’t appeal to me:

- The character of Mr. Kudo, who I assume was introduced only to provide a diversion and make the reader consider him a suspect. I thought he only added a few extra pages.

- The names of characters. From Kusanagi to Kishitani to Ishigami to Yukawa, I had a hard time keeping track of their names. Tongue twisters if you may!

- The big finish. They claim that the twist in the end would feel like a slap across your face but sadly, it wasn’t so for me. The way the twist is revealed, doesn’t make you gasp in surprise or cry out loud at how you missed it. After a good bout of narration for over 300 pages, the grand finishing touch, merely fizzles out!

- The climax. The story builds up and around Ishigami and Yasuko and given the ending, I felt their characters and the bond they develop, should’ve been much more stronger. With a breezy existence in her life, the decisions Ishigami makes for Yasuko and the ones she makes for him, just don’t come across as very convincing. They leave you a tad disappointed and forced to accept things at face value.


The Devotion of Suspect X is definitely a good read, supported by crisp translation, a fast-paced narrative, an intriguing plot and a bunch of interesting characters. I would recommend this book, for a boring afternoon or a lazy Sunday when classics are not appealing and that big fat book you are reading now is temporarily lost on you. This book is a palette cleanser.

My rating:

3.5 out of 5

Have you read the book already? Did you like this review? What do you think I got right about the book and what do you think I am wrong about? Let me know. Drop in a comment below. Let's discuss  :) 

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