Compilation Literary Review

Essaying it with style

Views and Reviews; M.S. Nagarajan, Ennes, price not stated.  

Did Naipaul transcend the colonial self? Did Shakespeare actually produce that prodigious and peerless body of work all by himself? Does a classic define itself merely by surviving? Nagarajan distils, in Views and Reviews (a compilation of essays and reviews, most of which were originally published in The Hindu), the essence of many erudite works, making them at once compelling and comprehensible.

He begins his essay ‘Why the Novel Matters’ simply — “Anyone who desires to know what the novel is all about — as I have all my teaching life — will find a valuable hoard of information in Milan Kundera’s slim, yet stimulating, book, The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts. A longer book would have made monotonous and irritating reading.”

The book features many such gems and the range is truly eclectic — there’s a review of a book on Ramana Maharishi ( The Hill), and some 50pages later, one on Bill and Hillary Clinton ( Living History). And there in lies the strength of this book — it’s got something for the connoisseurs, the Shelley and Tennyson fans (of Tennyson he says, he ‘worked with words like a jeweller with stones, testing their lustre and setting them in their foil’), and those who seek nothing more than a ‘quick and engaging read’, a thriller such as Gone (Johnathan Kellerman, Micheal Joseph).

My personal favourite was a profile of Rev. Father Lawrence Sundaram, ‘a blend of the preacher and the teacher’ (of English), who, with his skill and dedication, reassures Nagarajan (former professor and head, department of English, University of Madras, and an accomplished writer) that English teaching in India is alive and well. Affectionate and inspiring, he writes how Lawrence eschewed ‘new “trends and fashions” in the field of literature and criticism,’ happy instead to ‘communicate his enjoyment to his students’.

In the essay, ‘Seize the Day’, Nagarajan discusses the state of Indian fiction in English, the book market ‘inundated with Indian writers’. But besides the popular ‘paperback’ and ‘affordable price’ reason, he believes it’s because of the ‘distinction between serious and popular writing has been ironed out’, ‘there are newer modes of exploring the form and content of the novel; all of which have given the contemporary novelist a much elevated visibility on the international scene’. (A tiny crib — had there been a time stamp on the essays, it would’ve helped place them in context. Because in another essay, ‘Unconventional stories’, he says of Indian writing, ‘The pity of it all is that the best creative expression does not find its outlet in English’.)

And the book explores several Indian writers and their body of work and style, including R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie, Amit Chaudhuri, Kushwant Singh among others. Of Arundhati Roy, he says ‘Not to have known Arundhati Roy argues yourself unknown. That she revels in stirring up the hornets’ nest is a mild understatement’.

In an essay titled ‘Changing Concepts of Style’ (authored along with S. Jagadisan), Nagarajan says: “In this age of speed, when people have no time to stand and stare, but have enough time to rush through the deadlines, brevity forms a distinguishing mark of style.” It is that very same brevity that's the highlight of this book — 100 bite-sized essays in 381 pages. And that makes M.S.Nagarajan's Views and Reviews, besides a fine collection of reviews and profiles of literary figures, also a handy library wish-list.

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 2:24:55 AM |

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