The Secret River

The Secret River by Kate Greenville is “dedicated to the Aboriginal people of Australia: past, present and future”. It is a historical novel about an early 19th century Englishman transported to Australia for theft. The story explores what might have happened when Europeans colonised land already inhabited by Aboriginal people.

The book is obviously very well researched. The basic premise is also interesting. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The author is a winner of the Orange Prize. However, I was disappointed because it is not particularly engaging or absorbing.

The story is probably true to historical fact but this does not necessarily make for great fiction, as is the case here. There is no real development in the main character, nor real insight, nor epiphany. It is a pretty depressing tale of Western expansion. Neither the story not writing is enjoyable or satisfying for me. (I especially didn’t like that perhaps only 10% of the book had dialogues, but which have no punctuation marks for dialogues – only a few sentences in italics hidden away.) It’s not what I thought it would be when I chose to buy the book.

The Daughters Take the Stage

Two reasons made me choose this book – the author’s name and the mention of music in the blurb.

The name Joanna Philbin reminds me of well-known talk show host Regis Philbin (of Who Wants to be a Millionaire fame), and I found out later that she is indeed his daughter.

The blurb: ” The daughter of chart-topping pop star Holla Jones, stylish and sensitive Hudson Jones, is on the brink of her own musical debut. Hudson has inherited her mother’s talent, but she hasn’t yet embraced Holla’s love of the megawatt spotlight…”

Once I started reading, of course I couldn’t put it down until I finished. Even though I was disappointed less than halfway through the book when I realised that this book is written for teenagers. I had thought I could imagine what it would be like to be a teenager, since I was one once upon a time.

Still, I got the message that one does not need to be pressurised into being what is expected by others but be courageous and not give up easily.

One thing that puzzles me is the title: why daughters (in the plural) when the story is about only one daughter.

Honor and Evie

Besides Penny Vincenzi’s exhortation on the cover of this book that it is ‘charming and beguiling’, the synopsis on the back cover is also enticing.

Honor and Evie by Samantha Bates is about cousins who are very different yet are best friends. Honor is privileged, beautiful, intelligent and popular, and enjoys good fortune; but things are not that simple for Evie.

As Honor and Evie grow up, their friendship is tested. Honor marries a man who does not really love her and their marriage eventually fails; Evie becomes independent and successful in real estate. Can they remain close when their choices and ideals are so different? Or are they destined to grow in opposite directions, grow up and grow apart?

The story revolving around their love life and relationship is interesting but somehow the writing is not compelling enough for me. I’m in no hurry to read another book by the same author anytime soon.

The Perfect Sinner

When the government announced that Phase 2 of the post-Circuit Breaker would start on 19 June (but which does not include the libraries), I planned a list of things to do and get before they decide to tighten or restrict the places that can remain open.

At the top of my list is the need to get some books to read, so one of the first places I went was to a secondhand bookstore where I got four novels for S$10. And the first book I chose to read has the largest font – almost like a large print book. I had picked this book because the author’s name is vaguely familiar yet I could not recall reading any of her books.

The synopsis of The Perfect Sinner by Penny Jordon: “Prominent lawyer Max Crighton has it all – money, power, the perfect home life. But he goes from affair to affair, seducing his grateful female clients, putting his charmed lifestyle at risk. Then his luck runs out. He is brutally attacked. And he becomes a total stranger. Is this perfect sinner truly repentant?”

More than two-thirds of the book shows Max to be selfish, mean, egotistical, chauvinistic and misogynistic. He is verbally abusive and hateful towards his wife Maddy and their two young children, so much so that Maddy finds his absence for weeks and months a blessing and his son cringes at the sight of him.

Max is constantly berating Maddy and making her feel worthless as a wife and mother. He takes delight in humiliating and heaping cruelties on her, such as by telling her that he only married her for her family connections, not wanting to have children with her, and asking her to abort when she became pregnant.

Despite Max’s spiteful behaviour, Maddy chooses to stay in the marriage largely because of her children. The big, loving extended family of her in-laws would provide her children with a loving stable environment which she did not have being the only child of her cold and unaffectionate parents. Her children seem to be her reason for living and she appears to have low self-esteem and is unaffected by Max’s taunting.

The sudden transformation after the attack on Max is too amazing and miraculous; something quite unbelievable unless it can be explained by divine intervention. What is believable is that Maddy’s experience has led her to blossom into a confident woman. Only another woman who has gone through a similar experience would empathise and cheer for Maddy; I’m sure many readers would have dismissed her as a doormat or a weakling. And this makes for a good discussion topic at a book club.

Honorificabilitudinitatibus

Costard is a comic figure in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost. He is a country bumpkin who is arrested in the first scene for flouting the king’s proclamation that all men of the court avoid the company of women for three years. To emphasize the outrageousness of the dialogue, Costard uses a ludicrously long word: honorificabilitudinitatibus.

This is interesting information for me because I’ve not read the play and came across this while scrolling through Internet. It is just one syllable less than the longest word I know: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from the movie Mary Poppins.

Sepet

Sepet is a 2005 Malaysian rom-com that I had wanted to watch at the cinema, but missed it for reasons I cannot recall. I had also been looking for the DVD at the library to no avail, so I was excited to watch it on YouTube today. (The third movie I’ve watched on YouTube since the Circuit Breaker started.)

Sepet is a Malay word which refers to the ‘slit eyes’ of the Chinese. The movie tells a tale of love between a Chinese boy (Jason) and a Malay girl (Orked). It is a seemingly simple story, but there is depth in the characterisation and depiction of Malaysian life. These include the world that Jason and Orked live in – their friends, families and day-to-day lives. The characters are all interesting personalities, and together they give a realistic depiction of the ups and downs of Malaysian life, the conflicting cultures, the interracial relationships, the insecurity, the imperfections, the sincerity, the trust, the truth and the common stereotypes. One example of such realistic depiction is when Orked won a scholarship with 5A’s while Jason with 7A’s did not.

I also like the music used in the movie – from Cantonese songs by Sam Hui (like浪子心声) and Mandarin songs (like上海滩), to English (The Bridge of Madison Country, You Are So Beautiful) and Malay (Si Dia Datang), and especially classical music. Other than Schubert’s Allegro Guisto, Dvorak’s Song to the Moon (from his opera Rusalka) is especially poignant and greatly enhances the atmosphere in the scene where the dejected Orked wants nothing more than to reveal her love for Jason.

Though the movie ended the way I expected, it had me wanting for more. If the director, Yasmin Ahmad, did not have a stroke and cerebral haemorrhage and died suddenly, there might have been a sequel of sorts.

Sepet definitely deserves all the awards it swept up at the Malaysian Film Festival, and in Japan and France.

Sudoku

Other than the joy I derive from completing a Jigsaw Puzzle, I get immense satisfaction from completing Sudoku puzzles. I was first introduced to this game by my son when he was studying in a junior college more than a decade ago. I had at first stubbornly refused to learn the game because I have no sense for numbers, but my son convinced me that no mathematical skill is required. (He then explained to me another game called Kakuro; but that’s another matter altogether.)

I have been hooked on Sudoku ever since. Usually I would buy a stack of Sudoku books when there’s a discount. (Popular Book Store gives its members a discount coupon once a year.)

Sudoku is a logic-based, combinational number placement puzzle. It probably helps the brain to stay “sharp” and reduces the chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Other than boosting logical thinking and developing quick-thinking skills, it helps to improve concentration and memory. Besides the mental stimulation it provides, Sudoku also trains the brain to be better able to view something from multiple angles and anticipate and understand new patterns.

Above all, completing a Sudoku puzzle gives a sense of accomplishment, whatever the level. Most books contain different levels, from beginners to engrossing and challenging ones. What I like to do is to set myself a goal, such as completing the easy ones in two minutes or less and trying to complete the difficult ones in about 15 minutes. Sometimes it even takes up to half an hour to tackle the “devilish” ones. These really train the mind to be patient and think clearly by not being too anxious to solve quickly.

During the Circuit Breaker (CB) period, I completed the book pictured above. Now that Phase 1 of post-CB has started, I’ve also started on a Mammoth Book of Sudoku containing 1,250 stimulating puzzles from the exquisitely easy to the devilishly difficult.

I hope this can keep me occupied until the libraries are open in Phase 3, which could be at least two months down the road.

Update: The Mammoth Book of Sudoku was completed on 23 August 2020 during Phase 2.

Jigsaw Puzzle

A 500-piece jigsaw puzzle

I have loved doing jigsaw puzzles all along. Almost every available space on the walls of my home is covered with jigsaw puzzles. This has forced me to refrain from buying anymore jigsaw puzzles for many years. However, when I saw a new stack of jigsaw puzzles at the supermarket this morning, I couldn’t resist buying one.

To ensure that it’s money well spent, I decided to set a goal: to assemble the pieces then dismantle them for another session. I will take note of how long it takes me to complete the picture; I aim to improve the timing with each attempt. It took me 3 hours 50 minutes to complete Human Body this afternoon. My next attempt will be when I have at least this much uninterrupted time to myself.

This goal setting is, to me, one of the benefits of doing jigsaw puzzles. I feel doing jigsaw puzzles also helps develop/improve concentration, patience, thought processes and short term memory. At the same time, I find that putting the oddly shaped and mosaiced pieces together relaxing and satisfying.

Furthermore, it has been said that people who keep their brains active by completing challenging puzzles are less likely to develop brain plaques that are tied to Alzheimer’s disease as hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills are needed due to the precise nature of matching each piece exactly.

Updates:

2nd attempt: 3 hours (5 June 2020)

3rd attempt: 2 hours 15 minutes (6 June 2020)

4th attempt: 2 hours 15 minutes (7 June 2020)

5th attempt: 2 hours 50 minutes (13 June 2020)

6th attempt: 2 hours 10 minutes (14 June 2020)

7th attempt: 2 hours 10 minutes (17 June 2020)

8th attempt: 2 hours 20 minutes (12 September 2020)

9th attempt: 3 hours (12 February 2021)