I studied this book by E.M. Forster for A Level. Exams, especially in literature, are designed to drain all interest from what might otherwise have been a good novel. So, my views on this book have always been clouded somewhat by the background knowledge that I spent hours trying to deconstruct the meaning rather than enjoy it.
Nearly forty years later and I think sufficient time has passed to read it again and this time as a reader rather than as a pupil. I was surprised by how much I appreciated the story, especially the way the narrative had been constructed. Another casualty of the ‘set book syndrome’ is that you end up moving backwards and forwards across the text to identify themes or gather quotes to support an essay statement. Quite soon, the idea that the book has an arc and that the deeper meaning is layered across the plot is lost.
I remember having a soft spot for both Aziz and Fielding as Forster himself must have done. The Indian doctor and the British headteacher have a friendship not reflected elsewhere in the society in which they lived. The visitors, Mrs Moore and Miss Quested, while central to the drama have an outsiders view of relations between the races in the Raj. Their connection to the ‘real’ India is one of observation of the exotic. Fielding’s answer that they should try seeing Indians if they want to see India is at the heart of Forster’s message.
I was glad to return to this novel so many years later. I sourced the version I used in a classroom in the 70s; I needed the same cover, size of book and feel of the pages. It worked for me.
‘A Passage to India’ by E. M. Forster is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This is the first manga series I read! Inspired by an article in the New Statesman magazine, I searched out the first volume and then read through to the twelfth and last. Written and illustrated by Maki Murakami, it tells the story of Shuichi Shindo and his band as they rise to stardom. Shuichi is in love with the romance novelist Eiri Yuki. The two men form a relationship which is odd since the aloof Yuki is hard to like. Their first meeting came when Shuichi’s lyrics blew out of his hand in a park and were picked up by the writer. His response that the work was rubbish hurt the aspiring singer but the enigmatic figure intrigued him enough for him to pursue him, a decision that led to their relationship.
The story of the ups and downs of living together is told across the twelve volumes along with the complementary plot of the success of the band which Shuichi formed with his best friend Hiroshi Nakano. As with most of the manga and anime that feature late teenagers, the parental presence is reduced so that decisions about moving in with a famous romance novelist can be made without reference to parents.
The manga was a lot of fun, especially in the early episodes. Later stories stretched the patience somewhat but, having started, I was determined to finish. ‘Gravitation’ led me to explore other manga series and anime so it has a special place in my hinterland as the starting point for the further discoveries.
I was reminded of this anime feature from Japan after watching ‘Your Name’. They may not be in the same league in terms of quality but the story is an interesting one. It is told in flashback. Taku sees a woman at the train station and remembers how she came into his life. We see the story unfold starting at the point where Rikako joined his High School, transferring from Tokyo.
She is bright but arrogant and finds it hard to fit in. Taku, along with his friend Yutaka, is fascinated by her but not sure how to take her. She seems content to use her new found friends when it suits her, borrowing money when she needs it and failing to pay it back, for instance, and she thinks nothing of phoning Taku to rescue her from an old boyfriend when her date turns sour but seems not to recognise that he has feelings for her.
The film was the work of younger Studio Ghibli animators and it is best seen as a work of emerging artists. It is an interesting work, nevertheless.
This excellent 2016 anime from Japan makes you think about identity and gender. The concept of a boy and a girl changing places is one that has been explored in other films but this one has an extra dimension of time and chronology to add to the mix. The high school boy from Tokyo and the girl of the same age from rural Japan swap places unwillingly and realise that this new life is bringing around changes in their personalities as well as their fortunes.
There is a lot of fun to be had from the gender swap concept but the film is less interested in gender difference and more interested in personality. This makes it a more perceptive film. Their friends notice the differences in their manners before they do. In agreeing to communicate with each other, they set up a very modern solution to the problem: mobile phones are used to record diary entries. When back in their own bodies, they can see what ‘they’ might have done the day before. This is best shown when the boy goes on a date his other self set up for him.
Then the swapping stops! To lose the central idea of the film about two thirds through is a brave choice as the story develops into one of a young man pursuing a young woman who knows him like nobody else. This task seems impossible when his research in news media tells him it would be a waste of time.
I watched the version with sub-titles so that I could hear the Japanese language, even though I don’t understand it. I could not cope with American voices taking over, acting like a cultural gravy over the whole affair.
Mokoto Shinkai directed the film. Ryunosuke Kamiki played the young man and Mone Kamishiraishi played the young woman.
‘Your Name’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This poem by Brian Patten from his collection ‘Armada’ resonates with me.
These Boys Have Never Really Grown into Men
These boys have never really grown into men,
despite their disguises, despite their adult ways,
their sophistication, the camouflage of their kindly smiles.
They are up to their old tricks,
still at the wing-plucking stage. Only now
their prey answers to women’s names.
And the girls, likewise, despite their disguises,
despite their adult ways, their camouflage of need,
still twist love till its failure seems not of their making;
something grotesque migrates hourly
between our different needs,
and is in us all like poison.
How strange I’ve not understood so clearly before
how liars and misers, the cruel and the arrogant
lie down and make love like all others,
how nothing is ever as expected, nothing is ever as stated.
Behind doors and windows nothing is ever as wanted.
The good have no monopoly on love.
All drink from it. All wear its absence like a shroud.
I am late to the Paul Scott ‘Raj Quartet’ party! I remember the fuss around the television series in the 80s, the first time I heard about the series of novels, but I didn’t read them back then. It has taken many years to get around to starting them and over fifty years since the first novel was published. I am glad I did!
The novel is about the dying days of the British Empire rule of India and centres on Hari Kumar (or Harry Coomer as he once styled himself) a young Indian, brought up in England and sounding more English than the English, and Daphne Manners, a young British woman serving in India since the war back home took the lives of her immediate family. Their growing relationship causes many other people to notice, on both sides of the racial divide. There are other characters who exemplify the strict British code of living apart from the Indian people and Indians who are suspicious of anyone who gets close to the British. Then there is Miss Crane, deemed eccentric because of her willingness to treat Indians as people, and Ronald Merrick, the Chief of Police who believes that liberal attitudes will be the undoing of the Empire.
Told in a form of research gathered into a case of an attack on Daphne Manners and the aftermath, we have diary extracts, letters and interviews. There is an exploration of the back story of key characters, especially Hari Kumar and Daphne Manners and over the course of the novel we piece together the story of the attack. The book works well because it maintains interest in the central drama despite revealing this information on the first page.
The British rule in India in the early 40s was one of expectation that the people of India would support the war effort; why would they not be loyal to the throne in the time of need? Not every Indian understands why a war involving the British should involve them and the Japanese threat is less of a threat to fellow Asians.
With themes of identity, race and Empire, this book remains essential reading. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir was a brilliant evocation of his childhood as well as an exploration of what it is like to have a past truth revealed. In this case, the discovery of his father’s mental illness and the impact this must have had on his mother. Dealing with the past as an adult threw up for him his feelings about what he might have known but did not confront. It was a terrific exploration of how families cope and how they create their own histories. It was a wonderful book so no surprise that BBC television made a film version.
Sacha Darwan plays the adult Sathnam Sanghera as he heads back home from his high powered job on a national newspaper in London. His family in Wolverhampton have a life that seems alien to him now, especially as he has a girlfriend in London who is neither Punjabi nor Sikh. He has yet to reveal this truth since it would break with family tradition. On the other hand, his parents have a secret from him, one that is revealed when he helps them with packing. The medication for his father is to control his schizophrenia. The shock for the adult Sathnam is that he never knew this central aspect of his family’s story. He was equally unaware that his sister seems to exhibit the same symptoms as his father.
This is a story of uncovering the past and coming to terms with it. The film shows the younger Sathnam as a shadow figure looking on as his adult self walks the old streets of his childhood city. Coming to terms with the past also involves coming to terms with the present: there is a partner, who as white British, may not be accepted in his family; the time has come to find out.
The book was excellent and the film lives up to the calibre of the written word even if the story has to be pared down for the benefit of the screen. In telling the central story much of his school life is jettisoned here. Yet it is a film with heart and one that does justice to Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir.