Sequelling All The Way Home

A girl sits at her computer, face serious as she opens a new tab and googles meg cabot. The link to the website loads, and suddenly it is there, the Save the Date for the wedding of Susannah Simon and Dr. Hector “Jesse” de Silva, as well as the announcement about the wedding of HRH Mia Thermopolis to Michael Moscovitz.

When I read a book and grow up with the protagonist, and live her life for a chapter or two hundred, I want a conclusion to that process. Yes, the book itself had some kind of ending, perfect or otherwise, and it will do for a while, but what about after the eighth time you read it? You NEED another story to answer the infinite questions you have about their lives.

That’s where my jumping-up and down reaction to the news of The Royal Wedding-The Princess Diaries XI came from. When I visited Meg Cabot’s website as I sometimes do to check up on any new releases from my favourite author, I was rewarded with the best news ever. Not only was The Royal Wedding coming out this June, the seventh book in the Mediator series-Remembrance is being published in February 2016!

I had no idea how I would wait for it to be released for three long months. I just knew that once it was out, I would have to read it absolutely as soon as possible. The revival year, that’s what I think of 2015 as, the year Meg Cabot did this, Harper Lee released Go Set a Watchman, Jurassic World came out, and a bunch of other long-awaited sequels made their appearance.

Trying to look at a Pinterest board about The Royal Wedding, the sign-up form kept popping up annoyingly, every time I refreshed the page, I had a moment’s peace before that awful red thing popped right back up. I gave in, and got myself an account, something I’ve avoided ever since that became a social media option.

In all my excitement, I went on a fan girl expedition through the Mia Thermopolis blog, the Pinterest board, and made myself overly excited and unable to wait to read the book. As fun as all these franchise-y things were, I really just wanted the book. Once I got it, I couldn’t stop reading.  It gave me a sense of homecoming, immersing myself in Mia’s particular brand of neurotic and lovable recording of her life.

Two girls immersed in a conversation, eagerly discussing the book one just finished borrowing and reading. Slightly embarrassing conversations, they didn’t really want people they didn’t like to overhear. These were spread over years as one book after the other was released. They never discussed To Kill a Mockingbird, it was the domain of another set of her friends, a few years later. They had equally detailed discussions and analyses, but sometimes they had to agree to disagree.

How could a bunch of diary entries get millions of fans from preteens to adults so incredibly excited? If you’ve read even one of the books in the series, you would know why. All the reviews mention the new fans, but everyone knows, it’s the original fans that matter, “Original fans of the series, now adults themselves, will be thrilled with this (The Royal Wedding),” said Booklist. I don’t think anything has ever been truer in a book review.  When Publishers Weekly said, “Readers who first discovered Cabot’s Princess books as teens will enjoy seeing Mia and Michael all grown up, ….. Since this is being billed as the final book in the series, one hopes that Cabot will reconsider and write more of Mia and Michael’s story . . .” all I could think was Yes, please please please. I want more!

That was the thought at the back of my mind as page after page passed by. I wanted to finish the book, but I really didn’t. I dreaded the end, though I knew it would be just what I wanted for Mia. I knew that Jean Louise wouldn’t get such a happy ending. I was reading Go Set a Watchman at the same time, I had to. There was no way I could have read Lee without something to balance my confusion and irritation. Go Set a Watchman is not a funny book, it made me stand on my head (not literally). Mia I knew perfectly and identified with more than I probably should, considering how downright crazy she sometimes is. Jean Louise on the other hand is like some other species, but I love her too.

Reading the little extra things included in the diary, like Mia’s shopping list, or text messages; those are usually the most fun parts of the book. It’s endlessly entertaining to see her try to control everything, fail, but then have everything turn out wonderfully. It also does that thing, the thing that everyone claims people want to know about celebrities, “They’re just like us!” If you’ve seen any entertainment which is about entertainment, be it a TV show or even if you just look at a magazine, half the articles are about emphasising how normal they are, while the other half is about showing how much cooler their lives are.

Go Set a Watchman is the much awaited continuation of the story of Jean Louise Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. It has that uniquely vague title to keep the reader guessing. I assumed it had something to do with Atticus, who is old and carries his famous pocket-watch and wears a wristwatch as well.  I was on the right track, what with my lack of knowledge of biblical text. It is something Jean Louise hears in her church when she returns home and has her world shattered.

The train going by, that chug-chug sound playing as she read; she was transported to her teens again. All the times she read TKMB, it was a struggle to find meaning, a battle with the author to win. She had to understand. In the present, it was so clearly Lee’s writing, but writing not with the voice of a child, but a woman! As the landscape becomes increasingly familiar to Jean Louise, I settled back into my chair and the 20th century world of “the South”.

When I saw the link to the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman, all those conflicted feelings from when I read TKMB came back, but the prospect of an adult Scout Jean Louise Finch was amazing. I read the chapter immediately, and died a little inside when the casual mention of Jem’s death pops out of nowhere. It seemed almost like a plot device to explain why Hank and Atticus are so close, it hurt. As I read the book, it felt less like a blow to my solar plexus, and more of a why’d-she-do-it kind of irritation.

The book is constantly returning to the past, bursting with the exploits of Scout and Co.  While she has grown-up, there is still that girl who challenges her world, but loves it (old Maycomb) running throughout the narrative. Her struggle for a large part of the book is deciding whether or not marrying Hank will allow her to be happy. It is at the same time a story of the changed and unchanged Maycomb, as Jean Louise reacts to the things that upset, confuse, anger or please her.

It seems like the usual returning to home, how everything has changed! narrative, until Jean Louise visits the courthouse and has her entire faith in her father (and Hank) totally destroyed. That’s where the book started to be unbelievably confusing for me. Each page left me with an unsettled feeling, like I was with Jean Louise, trying to comfort her after she feels this utter horror. Her entire world is formed around Atticus’ views and when their views diverged, it broke her.

I was puzzled, why was Atticus doing this? He wasn’t nearly as great as a lot of people who’ve read the book seem to think. We were sitting in Lit class, the five of us and our teacher. She asks us, you know that part where Atticus drives Calpurnia in the car? Yes, we do. Well, why does Cal have to sit in the back? We were stumped for a second, and then, we knew, Atticus, for all his equality-of-man-before-law speak, was just as inherently racist as the rest of his town. That was when Jem became a better symbol for justice than his father for me. Yes, he was a bit of a bully, and he had some of his own blind spots, but he was a child.

Jean Louise tells us of Jem’s life in snippets, right up until he dropped dead because of his weak heart at 28. He was popular, on the football team in high school, he was going to join his father’s business, and then, just like that, he was gone. I still cannot reconcile myself to this. I cannot forgive Lee for Calpurnia turning away from Scout. Jean Louise feeling rejection, that I felt with her; it made me just as upset.  It is not easy to forgive people who don’t exist in your world, even if the protagonist does. You don’t have to see their faces and feel their contrition.

How do you forgive a fictional character, how do you the forgive the author who created too much heartache? Can you just throw a glass tumbler full of scotch into the fireplace and be done with it? Not having tried this method, I have no personal feedback about its cathartic properties, but it doesn’t seem to have worked for the (many) television characters I’ve seen doing it, so I suppose it’s safe to say don’t try this at home, it’ll just exasperate whoever has to clean it up.

Forgiving the authors is harder than you might think. It is their book, but it is also mine! I choose to appreciate Roland Barthes at this moment, the author’s identity is really insignificant, and whatever the interpretation prescribed by them, it is not how I choose to read it. You have the ending you want, the explanations you want, the perfect scapegoat all lined up, and then they go and do that. How dare they?

In another literature class, a friend was talking about Lee’s new book. She introduced the topic for the benefit of everyone else, she paused. Then she said something that made things click in my mind, you could almost see the flash bulb going off above my head in the dark AV Room where we sat. Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman before To Kill A Mockingbird, my eyes widened in the stereotypical surprise reaction, but I was feigning nothing. Genuinely shocked though I was, that revelation made it easier for me to forgive Lee for some of the pain and confusion she caused me.

The inconsistencies in the novels, and such huge ones, they disappeared. It didn’t matter anymore, the constant over-analyses I endured courtesy of the OCD part of my mind suddenly ceased. I had been wondering (almost daily I am ashamed to admit) about the infamous case that Atticus didn’t win in TKMB, how the heck was it that he won it in Go Set a Watchman?  This became far less relevant than it had been just a minute before. It was time to move on, to get on with my life. I had to do what Scout did, grow up.

I felt the joy in Mia’s life, but I also felt the loss of myself and re-centering that Jean Louise does. The book ended, and I felt more irritated and confused than anything else, the perfect tribute to how I felt years ago when I first read Lee’s TKMB.

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Choices

“Left or right, my lady?” Ignore the words which make you think of the British aristocracy and colonialism and all that jazz. It is a profound moment in a film all about choices, the ones we think we are making, but which are so often not choices at all.

In a sequel, certain expectations have to be met about certain characters, but what I like about Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is that there is very little expected in terms of whom she should end up with. She is seen as on the hunt for a wealthy man in the first film, but seems to be living her life on her terms. She doesn’t have the confusing relationship Evelyn Greenslade does with Douglas Ainslie, nor does she worry constantly about death or being alone or other things. She just has to choose between a couple of men, and the moment where she decides she doesn’t really want either is epic. (With the help and advice of her trusty taxi driver of course.)

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel promised to be fun, but in the way of many sequels, it cannot be quite as fun. Though filled with the antics of Sonny once again, and centered around his wedding to Sunaina, the focus is on the residents of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  One storyline, that of Norman Cousins, is essentially devoted to being funny, as he tries to protect Carol from an auto driver that might have misunderstood him and now be attempting to finish her off. Spotting an auto with a scorpion on the back might seem easy in Jaipur, but catching up to it is the hard part.

Charming as the first film, it is filled with moments where the characters do sweet or silly things which are extraordinary for people their age (as they keep mentioning themselves) but still believable. Becoming a tour guide is one way to earn a little cash as long as the assistant feeding lines to you isn’t a child who can be distracted by games. Douglas had to learn that the hard way. Luckily, by the end of the film, he has Evelyn to support him with her successful career as a buyer for a fabric business.

Sonny holds the residents in his heart, and it is especially clear in his relationship with Muriel Donnelly. Riding dramatically through empty streets is usually saved for romantic relationships, but we see him anxiously looking for his mentor right after he got married. With fear of the worst possible thing–her death on his mind, and ours, it is a relief to hear her characteristically crabby but affectionate words as she tells him to go back to the party, these words ease our minds.

But we know all is not well. It is reinforced in her brief conversation with the honcho who invested in the Marigold chain and is obvious from the classic juxtaposition of energetic dancing at the reception and her writing a letter with utmost concentration. “Let go. that’s when the fun starts. Because there’s no present like the time,” she quotes Sonny back.

Why do people write so seriously in letters, why can’t they be full of smiley faces and jokes? That probably contributes a lot more to the death of letters than the internet. And I’m back from my little digression.

“I spent forty years of my life scrubbing floors and the last few months of my life as co-manager of a hotel half way around the world. You have no idea now, what you will become.” It all comes down to choices, even if you don’t think you have one. She chose to go the Most Exotic Marigold Hotel as a cheap place to recuperate. Who knew the curmudgeon would end up helping to run it?

Not another Spy movie

I laughed. I laughed a lot. I cringed and then I laughed. I laughed because it was funny, and then there were the times I laughed because of years of conditioning that have taught me that all fat jokes are hilarious.

I like Melissa McCarthy, right from when I saw her as accident-prone Sookie on Gilmore Girls. Spy was a far better film to watch than another of McCarthy’s films,  Identity Thief. Not just because Rose Byrne was in it with her “bird arms”, at one point trying to push a gun across the floor to Susan Cooper AKA Penny Morgan, AKA Amber Valentine AKA whatever.

I like the paradigm of an inept but surprisingly awesome agent saving the day, I mean we all loved Johnny English, didn’t we? But Susan Cooper is not lucky the way Johnny English was. She is instead extremely ingenious, and has some scary-good combat skills, which we get to see in a video of one of her training exercises. “I wanted to put it up on YouTube”, says her boss, deadpan Elaine Crocker who threatens another agent if he dares to call her “Betty Crocker”.  That was one of the moments where the movie was funny without insisting on doing it at the expense of Susan.

In pursuit of someone who tried to shoot them, Cooper naturally got on a scooter, and immediately regretted it, “Who puts a roof on a scooter? What are you, the Pope?!” It made me pause the film to really get all my laughter out. The film offers plenty of these zingers, but sadly also insists on poking fun at Cooper’s clothes through other characters, mainly the villain Rayna. The upside to this is that we see how ridiculous it is to make fun of her clothes when either she has no choice about it, or because she is just dressing how other people expect her to (crazy cupcake necklace with a toggle system, seriously Agent Bradley Fine??? That’s your idea of a gift to someone you owe your life?). The many sides to Susan Cooper are probably better represented than a lot of women usually get in movies, from her sarcasm to intelligence to scary meanness to sweetness and fainting/vomiting at the sight of some gory things.

It was a chance to laugh, and a great one at that. It will probably be funny and entertaining for at least a few repeat viewings, which can’t be said for a lot of movies. Even though I objected to parts of it, I can’t deny the appeal of a comedy spy movie like it. Without films like it, our lives would be a lot more serious. Who wants that?

So what if I AM Sadness?

“Sadness, sadness, look here. You’re totally sadness.” I look up briefly, giving him my most supremely irritated look, the one reserved for annoying siblings. He kept insisting as I watched the film, It’s you, it’s you.

With every passing moment, I denied this. I am not always sad, I have other emotions, I don’t only sit around in some kind of existentialist funk. (Granted, I do get that way sometimes. ) With the idea of myself as “Sadness” reinforced constantly, it kept me from enjoying the movie as much. And isn’t that a huge problem? Other people labeling us makes us so aware of what we are and aren’t that we stop enjoying things, and it sucks.

Inside Out had been out for a while, I just hadn’t got around to watching it until this weekend. I wanted to watch it. I was really excited after watching the trailer, but somehow that feeling fizzled out as I heard more about it. I knew that it was bound to be disappointing in some way. It didn’t help that my brother had already watched it and any reference to it ended with my grumpy face and his smug irritating expression out in full force.

It was just a film, but it took on this massive topic, EMOTIONS, and the  emotions of a tween, can you imagine? It was a task not many people could have taken on, but those little animated figures worked really hard to make it seem real and yet fun. It was an interesting film, sort of like Osmosis Jones, but quite naturally, centered in this decade. With its basis in the human mind, Inside Out wasn’t like any other animated film I’ve seen.

Though it was definitely a children’s film, it was so popular among adults. From the feed of a psychiatrist I know, to an  uncle somewhere in my family tree, Facebook posts popped up for a couple of weeks after it came out here. It was not a phenomena, certainly not the way Frozen was, and it seems to have gone to the place where a lot of animated movies go. That list of movies teachers find appropriate for 9-year-olds, but interesting enough to show 13-year-olds as well.

I don’t know why this happens. Why don’t we ever want to re-watch these animated films the same way we do some dabba action film? There are exceptions of course, the Despicable Mes, the Kung Fu Pandas, and a couple of others that seem to have escaped the watch-once-and-don’t-repeat instructions.

Maybe it has to do with labels too, we don’t want to be outside of the popular culture of our age-group. Watching these films once is acceptable, but loving them as much as The Avengers is just not done. Or are we just too old to enjoy a bright bubbly world, Imagination Land and Bing-Bong’s song? Seems unlikely.

Open Dosa reporter on SBOpenerwala

                              The stunning wall makes the perfect backdrop to the tiny train

Check out my new piece “A feast for the eyes” on SodaBottleOpenerWala, only at The Open Dosa! With all the pictures to prove it.

It was a piece put together over a meal and hours of staring at the walls of the restaurant instead of my food. I think capturing an experience is a tough enterprise, when there’s so much to include and exclude. I’m hoping I got my readers to see the place through my eyes for at least a little while, whatever their own opinions might be.

It’s up on my blog as of July at https://sarcypavi.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/a-feast-for-the-eyes/

Or you can find it at :

http://www.opendosa.in/?p=735