Review: Following Ophelia

Following OpheliaFollowing Ophelia by Sophia Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
I picked this one because the description was on the same lines as another book I read last year―Wings over Delft (which was of course in a whole different time period and setting, and really a completely different story as well). This one tells of sixteen-year-old Mary Adams who arrives in London to work as a scullery maid, a job she isn’t really cut out for, but which is the only option available to her as she has lost her previous situation. But along the way, she catches the eye of a group of young pre-Raphaelite painters, many of whom wish to paint her. When one of them convinces her to be his model, Mary begins a double life of sorts, maid by-day, and artist’s model whenever she is needed. Her ‘second’ life takes her into society, parties, meetings with famous artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Millais among them, and she is soon the talk of the town. Soon enough she begins dreaming of a better life, and the path to achieving it seems open before her. But when trouble creeps into her life in more than one form, she must take some difficult decisions which might take life in a completely different direction.

I found this book to be a fast-paced, engrossing read, pretty much from the start. Mary was a likeable character, coming across as a believable sixteen-year-old, and one finds oneself rooting for her throughout. The other characters too develop realistically rather than as ‘storybook’ ones―people one likes may not always turn out as one expects them to (although that doesn’t necessarily make them ‘bad’ people, just people), and friendship and help at times comes from completely unexpected quarters. And that indeed is what can be said about the plot and the story as well. I enjoyed the world of art that the book takes us into―although it doesn’t go into it in depth (I couldn’t help comparing it on this count with Wings over Delft); while it creates the atmosphere of the world of art/artists, it remains a light read. What adds to the atmosphere the book creates, and lends it more authenticity, is the combination of both fictional and historical figures (the artists, their muses) in the story which was another element I really enjoyed about it. While I do like reading books on art etc. (the Great Artists Series, especially since it gives one a good introduction to different artists and their works, styles, etc.), the pre-Raphaelite movement was not one I was familiar with, and reading this led me to look into it, and the paintings mentioned in the book. But it is not only art, poetry and poets, and Greek mythology are also elements around which the story is woven. But at the centre of it all is Mary’s story of course, which I found interesting throughout, and it would be fun to see what the next leg of her adventures leads her into (we already know where!).

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Review: Kartikeya

Kartikeya: The Destroyer's SonKartikeya: The Destroyer’s Son by Anuja Chandramouli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.

This was a book that I was interested to read because its focus is Kartikeya, the older (though in some accounts younger) son of Shiv, the god of destruction and his consort Parvati. It is their younger son, the elephant-headed Ganesha who is more popular. In fact, I knew very little about Kartikeya except seeing his idol in the Durga Puja where he stands, with his mount the peacock, alongside his mother, brother, and other deities; a little from mythological shows on TV; that he is more revered in the South of the country; and the only story I’d really read/knew of before was really to do with Ganesha’s intelligence. So, of course I was keen to see what this would tell me of Kartikeya. The book tells the rather unique tale of Kartikeya’s birth, his early life at Mount Kailash with his parents, and the prophesy that it is he who will bring an end to the rule of the three asuras―Soora, Simha, and Taraka―over the three worlds and restore the king of the devas Indra to power. We are acquainted with his prowess in war, his compassion towards his “enemies” (some of them, anyway) and also, perhaps, some of the more infamous tales associated with him, which the author interprets somewhat more positively, as in keeping with his character, his infinite capacity for loving and being there for any that needs him, rather than a flaw as one might ordinarily view it. We are also told of how he acquires his rather loquacious mount, Chitra the peacock, at once fun and annoying, and his meeting with his consorts Devasena, Indra’s daughter and Valli.

Kartikeya is handsome, compassionate, and while a warrior, keen also to maintain peace. In fact his is the only rational voice in his family, his parents being more tempestuous and inclined to fly off the handle, much too easily for their own good. When in war, Devasena helps him see the less violent way to give the asuras their just desserts, but he doesn’t shy away from giving those that deserve it a worse end. Also he is not power-hungry like Indra, and in fact, prefers to leave it to others who he sees more capable of bearing it. It was interesting to learn how it happened that Kartikeya headed to the South but as another reviewer has also said, I would have liked to have learnt more of his adventures there. We are told that he endeared himself to the people there but not why.

What I enjoyed in the book was really the various legends and stories about Kartikeya and his family, though being mythology in its full-blown form, it does tend to get explicit, which I could have done without. While I knew of that the devas were indeed subject to the same failings as mortals, it was interesting that even the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva aren’t quite free of these. In fact, their lives aren’t all that very different from ours, affected by jealousy, anger, and unfortunately also, the women among them being at the receiving end of injustice. It in fact, even makes one wonder why the distinction between gods and mortals, when they seem essentially the same. Of the devas, Indra the king is a rather debauched, depraved and treacherous soul making one wonder why one so unworthy was ever made king (haven’t read enough mythology to know much of his story―more his misdeeds that anything positive). The three asura brothers are far better people, as while they may well have been responsible for much violence and pain, it is Indra that has provoked them into it with his own reprehensible acts. Not only that, the asuras realise that power or even the fulfilment of one’s deepest wishes brings with it unhappiness and discontent, not what one was seeking.

Chandramouli’s descriptions are vivid (even the gory ones, some of which send a chill up one’s spine) and her command over the language very good, though there were places where colloquialisms creep in (for instance Kartikeya “showing up” somewhere) which seem somewhat out of place in a mythological setting.

Three and a half stars.

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