Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cat O' Nine Tales - Jeffrey Archer

The author has served 5 years in the House of Commons, 14 years in the House of Lords and two in Her Majesty’s Prisons, which spawned highly acclaimed prison diaries.

When incarcerated for 2 years in 5 different prisons, he picked up several ideas for short stories.
This book is a result of all those days of imprisonment and association with prison mates!

A classic example of time and resource management!

It’s a collection of twelve short stories. Most of them are set in Europe. One is set in Russia. One in India. I might have forgotten any other place.

The protagonists of the story were mostly fellow prisoners of the author (perhaps you should call them antagonists!)
All stories are based on real life incidents and therefore interest you as they reveal the strange ways of people. And since the characters are all involved in crimes of varying magnitude, they are extraordinary (please read it as out of ordinary) on account of their idiosyncrasies and their cunning.

I must say, the book is a classic case of ‘parts being greater than the whole’.

Almost every story, for most part is the stuff banality is made of.
And the supposed twist that makes the story a story is not twist enough. (for me!)

Some of course, stories of theft, deception, stealing, conning are interesting. They always are.

A smart story writer, I must say, solely with reference to this particular book. The stories are eight to ten pages each. The pages are filled with details that actually grasp your attention and fill the pages but have no bearing upon the story itself.
To make my point clearer, I will have to tell you something.
When I open the book today to write this review I don’t remember the stories when I see the titles. I don’t remember even after I read from the pages. Only when I read a certain part that forms a central point, I am able to recollect.
And this, I cannot help comparing with the experience of reading some of those books, the details of which, I so clearly, vividly remember, though months and months have passed since my reading them.

To compare thus is probably not fair because some books simply are not written to make an impact or to inform but to simply entertain, please or amuse.

But then again, even among those books belonging to the latter category, I am reminded of so many, the subject of which is banality, but the rendering of which makes them spectacular, leaving an ever lasting impression.

Do you remember ‘The Last Leaf’ of O Henry or ‘The Eyes Are Not Here’ by Ruskin Bond?

Anyway, let me not compare. For even without making comparisons, I can say in a sentence ‘This is one of those books that you will read very attentively and forget soon after’.

The twelve stories are:

The man who robbed his own post office – a lot of banality with some twist in the end.
Maestro – a case of investigation of fraud, where the fraudulent guy, a restaurant owner, a tax evader, outwits the investigators.
Don’t drink the water – As you sow, so shall you reap. This story is set in Russia.
The red king – I would call this a story – some history, some interesting facts, some conning, … The Wisdom of Solomon – A court trial – a divorce case. The twist in the end is extraordinary but the story that leads up to it is itself not much. Men all over the world would love the ending.
The commissioner – This is set in India. A story of a commissioner of police dealing diplomatically with a prisoner. Good one!

The following have no story really unless i missed something.

It can’t be October already
Know what I mean?
Charity begins at home
The alibi
A Greek tragedy
In the eye of the beholder

And now, certain lines from the book…the author…

The old cliché that there is a book in every one of us is a fallacy. However I have come to accept over the years that most people have experienced a single incident in their life that is unique to them and well worthy of a short story. –

I agree with this one. So true! I tried to believe in the philanthropic stand that each one of us has a story. But I realized soon that I was pretending to myself. Perhaps some people, as the author says above, are worthy of a short story only.

Whether you are a peer or a pirate depends on whom you share your spoils with-

Here, the author refers to the customary practice of a time.
Those pirates, who robbed ships on seas and kept the spoils to themselves were called pirates and brought to subjection.
But if they gifted the spoils to the King or Queen, they were conferred upon with the title of Peer!

The ways of the British monarchy do not stop to amaze me!


Satish said...

Guess i need to read this book. I have read few of Jeffery Archer's book and found it to be normal like other writers, didn't expect the punch that you get while reading O'Henry stories

The Last Leaf is beautiful in its simplicity yet so heart touching.....For me R.K. Narayanan also in the same league

Also to quote Isabel Allende - "Novels are, for me, adding up details....Short stories are more difficult-they have to be perfect,complete in themselves"

Sowmya said...

The punch is there...in many of the stories I think. The problem is, there is nothing else.

I mean the destination is something. The journey itself is not much... :-)