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Tag: romance

A MOVIE A DAY #2 – The Lunchbox (2013)

When I mentioned to my friend Zamir my plan to watch a movie every day this year, he promptly reminded me of our long-held promise to watch the acclaimed 2013 Indian film The Lunchbox together. A few messages back and forth later and suddenly he is on a train, heading across town with a container of his mum’s fantastic biriyani in hand, and since we hadn’t actually seen each other in person in at least four years, this was both a shock and a delight, and makes me already grateful to have made this particular resolution.

After several hours of catching up, we finally settled down to watch this simple yet complex, sweet yet poignant, depressing yet uplifting gem of a film. Irrfan Khan plays the reclusive, widowed curmudgeon Saajan, who is about to take early retirement from his office job and doesn’t seem happy about it. Or anything, really. But then one day he receives the wrong lunch, this one lovingly prepared by the beautiful and unhappily married Ily (Nimrat Kaur) instead of the restaurant he usually receives it from. This begins a correspondence both intimate and anonymous, as these two forthright but uncertain souls – so different in so many ways – find common ground, and, above anything, hope in each other.

Comedic elements in the film are supplied mostly by Saajan’s eager new apprentice, Shaikh (a very engaging Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Ily’s voice-only upstairs neighbour Auntie, who dispenses marital advice, cooking tips and spices while caring for her bedridden husband. There is a lot of local flavour, as the lunch delivery service – the dabbawalla system – is celebrated in all its chaotic complexity, with legions of lunches being collected from homes all over the huge and sprawling metropolis that is Mumbai and taken by bicycle, cart and train into the city’s packed offices. At one point in the film, Ily tells her delivery man that her lunch is going to the wrong place, and he refuses to believe such a mistake can possibly have happened. People from Harvard, he says, came and observed its flawlessness, after all. I did some research, and yes, not only is this system held as the gold standard by most authorities, it is theorized that the reason this film was not chosen by the Film Federation of India as the nation’s official submission to the Academy Awards that year was because it dared to call into question the infallibility of the dabbawallas.

Both Kahn and Kaur are fantastic here, each of them expressing their loneliness with few words—its mostly in their eyes, their sighs, their silence. The change in them, as their penpal-based acquaintanceship/romance develops, is subtle but visceral, and the while of course, no film of this nature is going to wrap things up for us in a neat, pretty bow, when it ended I had a smile on my face, and Zamir and I spent a very happy half hour essentially writing verbal fanfic, as we speculated on what would happen next.

In all, a lovely film, a lovely experience, and lovely company with whom to enjoy it.

And lovely biriyani, too.


Written by: Ritesh Batra
Directed by: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bharti Achrekar, Nakul Vaid


READING THE TBR, DAY 284: The Sherbrooke Bride (1992) by Catherine Coulter

I stopped reading this one as soon as the hateful Earl of Northcliffe called sex with his teenage virgin bride a “ploughing” not very many chapters in. I should have stopped earlier, when the horrible men of his horrible family start detailing their tribe of illegitimate children, not all of whom were birthed by entirely willing maidens.

Call me a prude, but I prefer my historical romance heroes to be at least remotely honourable specimens of manhood. Honestly, I prefer all of my romance heroes to be honourable, regardless of time period. 

In fact, I just like that in people.

It’s a shame, because one of my favourite romance novels ever — which I first read at sixteen, and still read semi-annually — was written by Catherine Coulter. But I don’t think I will ever again be able to look at that book on my shelf without remembering this trauma.

“Ploughing.” I just will never get over it.



TBR DAY 284: The Sherbrooke Bride (Brides #1) by Catherine Coulter
GENRE: Romance, Historical Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: ~15 years.  

READING THE TBR, DAY 206: Maulever Hall (1963) by Jane Aitken Hodge

About a quarter of the way into this book, I knew exactly where it was going. Our heroine has amnesia, and there is much mystery as to where she came from, who she is, why she was running away and who is the little boy she had with her, but who does not seem to be hers? When I tell you that she does not regain her memory until the novel’s overblown conclusion, hundreds of pages later, and that in the meantime she is proposed to multiple times by no less than three men, becomes engaged (halfway through the book!), is told that she is already married, survives multiple attempts on her life, and relies on the kindness of so many strangers she should be dead many times over even without the assassin on her trail, you will scarce credit it, nor should you.

The ending is even more nutty, in which our dismayingly foolish heroine a) believes a proven liar again, b) puts herself in harm’s way again and c) gives her psychopathic would-be murderer exactly what he always wanted, simply because he only decided to murder her and a child for the sake of love.  

This book is ridiculous.

Of course, Gothic fiction is ridiculous; it’s supposed to be outlandish and near-farcical. It’s also supposed to be creepy, though this one misses that mark almost entirely. I haven’t read a lot of Gothics — most of my experience is drawn from Northanger Abbey and Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow, both of which are gentle but merciless parodies of the genre — but I have read enough to know that this attempt is… less than stellar. 

Speaking of Heyer, I originally bought this book because Jane Aiken Hodge was her first biographer, and while that effort was not nearly as successful as Jennifer Kloester’s more recent chronicle of that elusive genius, I nevertheless was very curious about the quality of Hodge’s own historical fiction, and kind of ashamed of myself that I hadn’t even known such existed, let alone had read it.

If this is any indication of her general standard, though, I really haven’t been missing much.  


TBR DAY 206: Maulever Hall by Joan Aiken Hodge
GENRE: Gothic Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
KEEP: Maybe, but only for Heyerian reasons.

READING THE TBR, DAY 196: Dumb Witness (1937) by Agatha Christie

Back to my old friend Poirot, and each time continues to be a revelation. Oh, this one — an elderly lady writes to Poirot because of a nameless fear, and when he investigates, she is dead — isn’t necessarily as original as the last few have been, and the killer is a little more obvious than previously, but the method, motive and, most importantly, Poirot’s suave unmasking of the culprit never fail to amaze.

These books are fast becoming my comfort read, which means as much as I want to tackle the next one in the series immediately, I’m going to make myself wait. The series is long but, ultimately, finite, and I want to savour it for as long as possible.


TBR DAY 200: Dumb Witness (Hercule Poirot #16) by Agatha Christie
GENRE: Mystery, Cosy Mystery
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Vintage shop.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 195: Emily Fox-Seton (1901) by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Originally published as two separate books, The Making of the Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst, this gorgeous antique hardcover from 1901 was an unexpected and delightful find for me, since Frances Hodgson-Burnett was one of the idols of my childhood — The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy — but for some reason it had never occurred to me, as an adult, to check what other books she might have written. It turns out, Burnett has an impressive catalogue, which eventually I will take a wander through (one of them, I bought at the same time as this, historical romance A Lady of Quality, which I will be delving into shortly), but first there is this rather cheery romance about the penurious, but well-born (of course) Emily Fox-Seton, who wins the hand and cold heart of a widowed marquis with her simple kind nature.

The early part, the Making of a Marchioness part, is by far the more enjoyable, as we see Emily eke out a respectable existence by performing the tasks of a personal assistant to various indolent matrons of London society. She is seconded into a country house party given by the commanding Lady Maria, and there she so impresses Lord Walderhurst that he slowly, and very subtly, falls for her stately spinster charms, even though there are much more youthful and beautiful candidates for his so-eligible hand.

The second part of the book deals with the new Lady Walderhurst’s adjustment to her circumstances, her developing relationship with her husband — neither are especially ardent or even intelligent people, but that they care for each other, there can be no question — and the jealousy this marriage aroused in the breast of Lord Walderhurst’s hateful heir, who had come to think the marquisate, and attendant fortune, virtually his own, and is put out by the prospect of a usurper being born to the family. There is, of course, Peril afoot, but Emily’s kindness knows no bounds, even when she must flee for her life, and for that of her unborn child.

It’s a perfectly agreeable, if pretty forgettable, story, the former part far more so than the latter, and it also provides a window into the life of a fallen-upon-hard-times gentlewoman of early 20th-century England. Unfortunately, it also encompasses the many prejudices and so-called superiority of Empire that marred so much of that time, and mars so much of its literature, which doesn’t always make it an agreeable read.


TBR DAY 195: Emily Fox-Seton by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
GENRE: Women’s Fiction, Classic Fiction, Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 192: X-Campus (2009) by Francesco Artibani

Another alternate Marvelverse, this one sees some of our favourite X-Men — Wolverine, Cyclops, Rogue, Angel, Storm, Iceman, Colossus and Beast among them — recruited as students at the prestigious Worthington Academy, which is under the control of the enigmatic Professor Magnus. (Yes. He’s Magneto.)

Their biology teacher is one Professor Charles Xavier, and when he and his assistant, Jean Grey, select our special few for some extra-curricular classwork, the X-Men (Jean’s proposed name: X-Boys; um, no, there are girls in the team, Jean! Ororo was instrumental in the first mission’s success! Surely X-Kids would have been a better attempt?) are born.

I do love an alternate reality in my favourite comic land, and this one is particularly enjoyable, full of just the kind of angst you would expect from a high school-set story, but also exploring what it means to be a hero, and a mutant, in a world afraid of daring to be different. (Again: high school.) The final volume of this 4-issue series is probably the weakest, and I did not at all understand what happened with Rogue (throughout called Anna; no one has an X-name yet) and the letter in the epilogue, but in all it’s a pretty entertaining AU, especially for anyone who likes a teenage drama, which may the gods forgive me, I surely do.


TBR DAY 153: X-Campus by Francesco Artibani, illustrated Michele Medda and Denis Medri
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes, Marvel
TIME ON THE TBR: 6 years.  
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 189: Anne Severn and the Fieldings (1922) by May Sinclair

Another Dodo Press “forgotten classic” reissue, and I… think I liked it? This 1922 novel full of pastoral England and WWI and an emerging, evolving amorality is not quite a family saga, not quite a romance, and not quite an insightful window into its time and place, but it is a little bit of all those things, and that made it pretty compelling, if not entirely satisfactory.

The Fieldings of the title are a family headed by a kindly gentlemen farmer, and we first meet them when Anna is a child who visits them in their country idyll each summer. She bonds early with the sweet-tempered Jerrold, and the two seem made for each other, but a series of tragedies — many war-related — throw many a rub thrown in the way of true love’s course, as do Jerry’s two brothers, the high-strung Colin and the way-too-good-for-everyone-in-this-book Eliot.

One thing that somewhat astonished me, toward the book’s end, was some pretty blatant sex talk, and even more blatant infidelity, which shouldn’t have shocked me (this was the 1920s!) but totally did. I guess because the earlier part of the book had been bathed in the golden age of Honour and Duty and rolling hills and the feudal spirit, I had been lulled into historical romance mode, but of course, this is a contemporary not-quite-romance, and so consequently far less idealized.

May Sinclair was a best-seller in her day, and with this outing, I can see why. Lyrical prose meets with idyllic scenery meets with scandalbroth and no little salaciousness, plus a pretty fearless depiction of the horrors of PTSD*  — these elements could easily make for a best-seller even now.

* That said, the suggestion that only “sensitive” young men would so suffer from the condition is pretty toxic, and sadly persistent. 


TBR DAY 1989: Anne Severn and the Fieldings by May Sinclair
GENRE: General Fiction, Classic Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 188: The Three Body Problem (2014) by Cixin Liu

I’m assuming that Liu Cixin approved the alteration of his surname-given name ordering when this book saw an English edition in 2014, but it still makes me shake my head, because: why? Surely people can figure out that in some cultures, countries and language groups, the family name comes first?


I bought this book when it was nominated for the Hugo Award in 2015 — it went on to win, the first translation to do so — and had every virtuous intention of immersing myself in its acclaimed pages immediately. But it’s hard going and I abandoned it before the sci-fi (indeed, it’s Hard Sci-Fi) even showed up.

The beginning of this book is brutal. It is set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and the viciousness of the public Struggle Sessions that saw intellectuals and dissenters against Communist doctrine publicly tortured for espousing such “reactionary” concepts as the Theory of Relativity and the Big Bang Theory. (Bazinga.) It is a passage like this that brings forcibly to mind the realization that we don’t need to wait for a hell-future to explore dystopian hellscapes. They have existed, still exist, in the world we know today.

Throughout the novel we follow the daughter of a Struggle Session victim, a scientist who gets caught up in… well, it turns out to be an alien invasion, but that aspect of things takes a long while to show up. Before then, there is a lot of secretive high-level research and denunciation of technology and a whole lot of marriages of convenience, Communist China apparently being no place for true love. It’s all very bleak and also it is brilliant, and while I can’t say I enjoyed it — the final stretch is a loooong stretch — I certainly appreciate its intricacy, its intelligence, and its painful allegory.

It’s not a fun book, but it is a very, very good one.


TBR DAY 188: The Three Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
GENRE: Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2014 (Original Chinese: 2008)
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 187: Lady Betty Across the Water (1906) by C. N. and A. M. Williamson

I have bought a few Dodo Press books over the years, and I very much admire that publishing house’s determination to bring perhaps forgotten novels forward to the 21st century, and to a whole new audience. I am so, so grateful that Lady Betty Across the Water was one of their chosen texts to preserve, because I completely loved this tale of a beautiful young Duke’s daughter who is introduced to wealthy New York society in the early 1900s.

Told by the naive but strangely insightful Lady Betty herself, in the guise of her journal, we see this young girl who is not yet “out” in her homeland, but is much courted and feted in the very title-conscious confines of the nouveau riche East Coast Elite. Betty’s wonderment at the classism that persists in the America is very entertaining, as is her shock at the effrontery with which various maids and other servants address her, and her delight at the sight of African Americans, and half-formed, self-acknowledged “wrong” wish that slavery was still a thing so she could have such beauty with her always, is… well, you have to remember this was written in 1906 and try to be forgiving.

There is a lovely love story, which you see coming a mile away but that unfolds quite unexpectedly, and some hilariously awful secondary characters who are surely a sharp-penned satire of some New York personalities I cannot name, yet weirdly recognize. 

In all, a delightful romp! 


TBR DAY 187: Lady Betty Across the Water by C. N. and A. M. Williamson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction, Classic, Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Brunswick St Books
KEEP: Yes!