Stranger than fiction

Books are my primary indulgence followed closely by coffee and chocolate. I believe that reading expands our consciousness and if only more people read, there may be greater empathy and tolerance amongst the people. Although we are entitled to form an opinion  and take a stand , we must read with an open mind when we read. Every reader  reads  about stuff that interest him or her . Every reader has his or her own preferences.

I find that words persuade, dissuade, describe and transcend all that define us, our beliefs, our insecurities, our hypocrisies, our truths and the ordinary events that shape our lives. Poignant writings touch our hearts, humour tickle and make us see the lighter side of life while thought provoking passages find its way to stir our conscience. Without words, we are mere beings. click

Non-fictions are intended to be informative and educational but I find that fictions may contain information that cannot be told in non-fiction books. I tend to read far more  fictions than non-fictions as I can get through fictions more quickly than  non-fictions that require more time and concentration. I take to fictions more simply because I  binge on books. I need to feast on words and in reading fictions, I gain a better understanding about humanity. What draws me to a particular fiction is its narratives, the voice,  the words chosen and how the sentences are structured

Hilary Mantel’s prose never fails.  Here is  the opening paragraph of Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. It had me hooked right away.

     September 1984

       IN FLIGHT

‘ Would you like champagne?”

        This was the beginning ; an hour or so out from Heathrow. Already it felt further;watches moved on, a day in a life condensed to a scramble at a check-in desk, a walk to a departure gate; a day cut short and eclipsed, hurtling on into advancing night. And now the steward leaned over her, putting this question.

      ‘ I don’t think so.’ They had already eaten; dinner, she supposed. So much smoked salmon is consumed on aircraft that it is a wonder there is any left to eat at ground level. The steward had just now whisked her tray from under her nose.’You could give me some brandy,’ she said.

Eight months on Ghazzah Street written by Hilary Mantel is a story about an English couple who has to relocate to Jeddah when the husband is offered a job after his contract in Botwana has ended. They are doubling his salary and offering free housing, a car allowance, paid utilities, yearly leave ticket, school fees. The only reservation is how the wife will settle in as she is a working woman and she won’t be able to work when they are there. Here is the exchange between Andrew Shore and his wife, Frances.

‘ Well, if you ‘re going to earn all that money, I’m sure I can occupy myself. After all, it’s not for ever, is it?’

‘No, it’s not for ever. We should think of it as a chance for us, to build up more security-’

‘ Will you pass me those salad bowls?’

Andrew was silent. He passed them, one by one. Why, really, should she share his vision of their future? She had come to Africa at her own behest, a single woman, one of the few recruited for her line of work.

Frances Shores is lost within Jeddah’s ever developing streets. The regime is corrupt and harsh, the cynical expatriates are money-grabbing and they tend to have the habit of  laughing  at everything as if it is the safest way of expressing dissent. She hears whispers from the “empty’ apartment above her. You can feel her sense of creeping unease. She has met her neighbours, one Pakistani couple with a small child and a young Saudi couple, also with a baby. Frances feels frustrated as her only source of information is from her husband, Andrew. During her stay, she finds her warily curious Muslim neighbours remain mysterious. Frances ‘is the sort of person who rings dates on calendars, and does not trust to memory; who, when she writes a cheque, does a subtraction and writes a balance on the cheque stub. She knows where all their possessions are, everything that belongs to her and everything that belongs to him; she remembers people’s birthdays, and retains telephone numbers in her head. She likes to make sense of the world by making lists, and writing things down.’      She keeps a diary.

          FRANCES SHORE’S DIARY : 14 Muharram

At last the doorway has been unblocked, and I feel that I am going to end this rather peculiar isolation in which I have been living. When I began this diary I described my first morning in the flat as if it were going to be exceptional. When Andrew locked me in , I thought it doesn’t matter, because  I won’t be going out today. As if not going out would be unusual. I didn’t know that on that first day, I was settling into a pattern, a routine, drifting around the flat alone, may be reading for a bit, doing this and that, and daydreaming. I can see now that it will need a great effort not ot let my whole life fall into this pattern.

Andrew thinks that perhaps after all we should have gone to live on a compound, where, he says, it is all bustle and sociability, and the wives run and out of each other’s houses the whole time. I’m not sure if I’d like that. I still think of myself as a working woman. I am not used to coffee mornings. I think of myself in my office at Local Government and Lands. I was run off my feet, or at least I like to think so. Being here is a sort of convalescence. Or some form of sheltered accommodation. You think that after a dose of the English summer, after the hassle of getting out here, you will need a recovery period. You need peace and quiet. Then suddenly, you don’t need it any more. Oh, but you have got it . It is like being under house arrest. Or a banned person.

Eight months on Ghazzah Street is chilling and reads like a thriller  but it ends in suspense. Perhaps that is the way things are as we will never find out what has happened or know what is actually happening. In the present era of media frenzy, we have to decipher the information that is available and decide for ourselves what to believe and what not to.


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