Somerset Maugham’s Rain

Rain is probably the best short story written by Somerset Maugham – in its length and characterization it is more like a novella but of course it conforms to Maugham’s formula for a story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

The story’s popularity has sustained over the years as it has been made into movies and plays. Sadie’s role of a prostitute out to have a good time has been portrayed on-screen by Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Rita Hayworth. The short story has often been selected for anthologies and is prescribed reading material for students attempting to master modern English literature.

The adventure begins off on simple terms. A ship headed to Apia is stranded near Pago Pago as a Cholera epidemic is suspected and a quarantine enforced to prevent an outbreak. Most of the travellers are ordinary folks headed on business and personal trips.

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John Le Carre’s ‘A Murder of Quality’.

It is one of the early books written by John Le Carre in 1962 and features his star spy – George Smiley. However is not really a Smiley we know and has nothing to do with the world of espionage. Moreover the BBC mini-series embedded Alec Guinness as Smiley in our minds and this version Denholm Elliott as Smiley is not really kosher. (Joss Ackland as the House Master captures our imagination far more effectively) In fact I am not even sure why it is titled, ‘A Murder of Quality’…

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Well having stated what it is clearly not, it is still worth a watch for Le Carre fans. Its redeeming features would include it being a classical murder mystery on the lines of Agatha Christie’s popular novels and it provides a riveting caricature of the stifled lives in a British public school where the traditions are observed but the ruling elite have lost their mojo and are muddling along in the rut of mediocrity.

Smiley is retired from the British spy service MI6 and estranged from his flirtatious wife Lady Ann. An old colleague working as an Agony Aunt for a Christian magazine seeks his help since a reader – Mrs. Stella Rode –  from the small school town of Carne has written asking for help as she accuses her husband – a school teacher – of planning to kill her. Smiley has a connection with the school since the House Master – Terence Fielding (Joss Ackland) – happens to be the brother of Smiley’s old colleague in the British intelligence during the war. Continue reading “John Le Carre’s ‘A Murder of Quality’.”

John Le Carré’s , ‘Smiley’s People’ featuring Alec Guinness as ‘George Smiley’.

The Smila v/s Karla trilogy featured 3 novels – ‘Tinker, Soldier, Sailor, Spy’, ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ and ‘Smiley’s People’. In the first novel Karla bested Smiley’s boss, Control, and Smiley was recalled to pick the pieces. In the second adventure there was little honour but the spoils were shared – Smiley busted a valued resource nurtured by Karla but was banished into retirement again due to the political machinations within the Circus. In Smiley’s People, Smiley triumphs over Karla and coerces him into defecting to the West. In terms of characterization it jars but the Pyrrhic Victory robs even Smiley of the mission that drove him all his working life as a spy. It is indeed curtains on the crumbling communist bloc, Karla and even Smiley’s own career.

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Karla and Smiley face off once again – this time it is on a rainy day in the city of Berlin in West Germany. Neither utters a word. There is no sense of triumph as the long fought battle comes to an end. Indeed Smiley is past everything except perhaps a weary sense of patriotism that justifies the relentless pursuit of Karla that is ‘Smiley’s People’.  Continue reading “John Le Carré’s , ‘Smiley’s People’ featuring Alec Guinness as ‘George Smiley’.”

P D James swansong, ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’.

Published in 2011 it turned out to be her last novel and a tribute to her favourite author and book i.e. Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. For her readers who had got accustomed to Adam Dalgliesh Murder Mysteries this was virgin territory and the plotting for once seemed off-key since possibly James’ didn’t want to play her hand to make it a full-blown murder mystery.

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The BBC adapted it as a 3-part series to be released at Christmas in 2013 and it is truly a lavish affair. They have the flair to combine serious actors and British scenery to the delight of their audiences across the world.

So the story takes off 6 years after Darcy and Elizabeth were married and settled in their magnificent Country estate at Pemberley. Jane Austen fans would be able to spot associations to the novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as many key characters continue to feature in this novel as well. The key themes that dominate the current tale include – Elizabeth try to cope with her marriage to an emotionally distant Darcy, Georgiana Darcy being wooed by two competing suitors, and most dramatically George Wickham ( the never-do-well charmer spouse of Elizabeth’s sister Lydia) facing trial for the brutal murder of his dear friend Captain Martin Denny in the Pemberley woods. Continue reading “P D James swansong, ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’.”

An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery – ‘Unnatural Causes’ by P D James

“The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast. It was the body of a middle-aged man, a dapper little cadaver, its shroud a dark pin-striped suit which fitted the narrow body as elegantly in death as it had in life…. He had dressed with careful orthodoxy for the town, this hapless voyager; not for this lonely sea; nor for this death.”

—P.D. James, Unnatural Causes (1967)

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It’s one of the early murder mysteries featuring Adam Dalgliesh and P D James was still in the process of evolving his persona though the early strands of reserve and ruthlessness easily shine through the piece. It is a gory and brutal murder set in a remote community of literary folks who are as insular and petty as the much maligned English countryside.

Maurice Seton is a murder mystery writer who is very conscientious about researching for the plots he sets up in his novel. While exploring a high-end but shady gambling casino, he seems to have bitten more than he can chew. He washes ashore as a corpse with the graphic description given up. The horror numbs you but when you get to your senses you realizes that it is a ‘dumb’ crime so unlike the skillful capers that usually feature in James’ novels.

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Review of ‘The Russia House’ by John Le Carré

 Le Carré’s novel set in the changing landscape of Russia in the post glasnost and perestroika was made into a movie starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer by Fred Schepisi. It opens to wonderful visuals of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and suddenly one realizes how the Cold War is dead and we are being welcomed to voyeur such an interesting land with a deep history of tradition and culture.

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Sean Connery essays the role of a realistic spy having done a lot of bombastic stuff in various James Bond movies including, ‘From Russia With Love’. Unfortunately Le Carré’s  novels are intellectual pieces that do not lend easily to adaption in a 2-hour movie format. While the movie does not have the legacy of Smiley and the Circus, it is still a bit tedious for an average viewer to walk-in and understand. It reflected in the Box Office results but I reckon it is still a good movie that stays true to the novel’s narrative.

Bartholomew “Barley” Scott Blair (Sean Connery) is a small time British publisher who goes easy on alcohol, beautiful women and Jazz music. He openly admits enjoying his visits to Russia and rubbing shoulders with the literary figures and discuss world affairs. MI6, the premier British spy agency, is interested in moulding him as inadvertently he has become a poster boy who has attracted the attention of senior Russian scientist – code-named ‘Dante’-  who wants to share critical intelligence and obviously defect to the West. The deal is being worked out through use of an intermediary, Ms. Katya Orlova (Michelle Pfeiffer) a Soviet publisher. Continue reading “Review of ‘The Russia House’ by John Le Carré”

Review of ‘The Tailor From Panama’ by John Le Carre.

‘In a place this treacherous , what a good spy needs is a spy of his own’.

Wise and prescient words that we can quote from Le Carre’s book. The novel and the movie offer a lot of new stuff for Le Carre fans – it is post Cold War world now and the traditional rivalry between the bipolar rivals led by the USA and USSR has ceased to exist, Pierce Brosnan gets to don the role of  a spy in real life post his stint as James Bond and Le Carre reinvents the traditional spy novel here as a satire that is unconventional and even levitious in sheer contrast to the grim Cold War chill in his past works.

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Le Carre’s novel is easy on the plot and provides us with moments to have a quiet smile if not a loud guffaw. It opens by mentioning a bit of history about the Panama Canal in Central America that is a lifeline for ships as it connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. Modern day Panama is still no magic land – it is ironic that its unique geopolitical advantage has not served its people. Instead there is a matter-of-fact statement about drugs and money-laundering being the key drivers of the land. Change for the better should ultimately come but in the novel’s setting, criminal enterprise is easy and inevitable. Continue reading “Review of ‘The Tailor From Panama’ by John Le Carre.”

The name is Connery. Sean Connery!

The moniker would be an apt tribute to the actor who gave style and substance to the spy based on Ian Fleming’s novels. ‘The name is Bond. James Bond’! is a classic introduction line used by the hero is all Bond films but the franchise journey from the heydays of ‘Dr. No’ and ‘From Russia With Love’ owes a lot to the first actor to essay the role.

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Recently while watching a re-run of ‘Dr. No’ I could see that the Bond formula had not quite been fleshed out – it really came into its own in the 3rd edition of Goldfinger. Yet the traces of its trademark style could easily be seen – Connery with his smirk and suave appeals a raw and gritty agent who doesn’t mind the mess that is part and parcel of his job on a daily basis. His dry wit and a preference for Martinis, shaken and not stirred start to make their presence felt. We are still to find Q’s dream factory of gadgets and gimmicks but Connery is already marking up his relations with ‘M’ and Ms. Moneypenny.

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The Arched Eyebrow – Roger Moore’s innings as ‘James Bond’.

Sean Connery defined the typical Bond – a gritty and street-smart operator who liked to have his Dry Martinis ‘shaken but not stirred’ as he went about the messy job of saving mankind and world from egomaniacal villains.

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Roger Moore could never outclass Connery on that score so he decided to change the approach by playing for laughs and wry humour. He never looked as one who could roll up his sleeves and brawl in the dirt. His approach made him appear more sophisticated and it worked with mixed results.

It helped that Bond movies had a well-defined framework that drew in their loyal audience. The standard devices included – a breath-taking pre-credit stunt sequence that would often bear no relation to the film’s story followed up by Ms. Moneypenny arranging for Bond’s customary meeting with ‘M’ (to learn about his latest assignment) and ‘Q’ (to get some gimmicky devices. Armed with his mission Bond would like the  British Isles and travel the world to showcase breath-taking visuals. Continue reading “The Arched Eyebrow – Roger Moore’s innings as ‘James Bond’.”

Mahabaleshwar Diaries # 2 – Pratapgarh – our own Machu Picchu!

Well it’s Day 2 of the weekend getaway to Mahabaleshwar and I plan to spend the morning visiting Pratapgarh. I walk out of the hotel to find this lovely small joint serving hot piping Kanda Pohe – the home-made variety. I learn that the place exclusively serves only Kanda Pohe and Chai for couple of hours in the morning. Already they have run out the stuff but they assure me that a second batch is on its way and I need to wait only for five minutes. It turns out to be worth the while as I finish a light breakfast to set the tone for the trip.

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The local State Transport also offers a convenient ‘4-hour-trip’ to Pratapgarh and we start off around 9:30 in the morning. Overnight the weather has changed in Mahabaleshwar – I learn that it rained all night and the power went of around 3 AM! Thanks to the inverter at the hotel I was quite unaware of the chaos in the town. The rain continues but it is a light drizzle right now and our bus again trundled off the ghat only this time it is in the opposite direction to yesterday’s trip. Continue reading “Mahabaleshwar Diaries # 2 – Pratapgarh – our own Machu Picchu!”