Today I am sharing my thoughts on CIRCLES AND SQUARES, a book on the Hamstead Modernists who were indispensable in the Avant-Garde Art Movement.
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(This blog posts also contain a review copy that was sent to me by publishers. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)
Hampstead in the 1930s. In this peaceful, verdant London suburb, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson have embarked on a love affair – a passion that will launch an era-defining art movement.
In her chronicle of the exhilarating rise and fall of British Modernism, Caroline Maclean captures the dazzling circle drawn into Hepworth and Nicholson’s wake: among them Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Herbert Read, and famed émigrés Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, and Piet Mondrian, blown in on the winds of change sweeping across Europe. Living and working within a few streets of their Parkhill Road studios, the artists form Unit One, a cornerstone of the Modernist movement which would bring them international renown.
Drawing on previously unpublished archive material, Caroline Maclean’s electrifying Circles and Squares brings the work, loves and rivalries of the Hampstead Modernists to life as never before, capturing a brief moment in time when a new way of living seemed possible. United in their belief in art’s power to change the world, her cast of trailblazers radiate hope and ambition during one of the darkest chapters of the twentieth century.
CIRCLES AND SQUARES was more of a biography of some very iconic Modernists, wrapped in a novel format. As a person who is not especially fond of biographies, I thought this now was actually done quite well. The narrative blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction, and the reader is left waiting on the various events and escapades (sometimes scandalous) of these people.
I also loved the inclusion of the pictures – it felt like I was reading about people who are alive. The touch is reality is always kept tangible via the photographs. I quite enjoyed this book and I think any Art History Major would love to have this book!
What if it’s You? by Mitali Meelan was a gender-swap on the classic tale of Cinderella that we have all grown up with. It is set in contemporary India!
Read till the end for the exclusive author’s interview!
I was a bit hesitant going into the book because retellings of fairytales, that I enjoyed as a kid, is kind of a make-it or a break-it situation. But I am so happy to state that this book flew past my expectations! I absolutely loved this story and simply devoured it.
A gender-swap on Cinderella, set in contemporary India!
In this story the roles are reversed – we have Vihang who has a cruel stepmother and Saira who is a famous movie star. Their love story is quite an unconventional one and their HEA too also seems to be likewise. I really liked that the author has included a very modern literary conclusion to the story – with an open and ambiguous end. I am also very eager to see what the future holds for these two characters.
Progress in this modern gender-swap fairytale
As such, this was a very plot-driven novel and I love the character transformations that occurred especially in regards to their relationship with one another and how it affected their emotional well-being.
Themes, characters in this gender-swap tale
The book also covered a lot of themes; some of the most important ones were that of illusions and image, friendship and self-discovery. Regarding the other characters, the stepmother was the epitome of the stereotypical stepmother. She was surely a cruel one who is so often found in fairytales, both classic or otherwise. As for the stepbrother Chetan – I do believe that he could have been better. But he was really influenced by his mother. And on the same note, I think his mother’s behaviour towards Vihang, had his own basic understanding warped. But what can I say about the father! I absolutely hated how he treated his own blood and believed a woman he met later on in life, more than his own son. But on the other hand, I can understand this very human folly – his blind emotional attachment towards the new wife.
A fantastic modern-day gender-swap YA story!
I quite enjoyed this book and I rate it a 4/5 stars.
Mitali Meelan is the author of three novels – What if it’s you, A Long Way Home (published by HarperCollins India) and The Guest (published by Black Ink Books), as well as Coffee and Ordinary Life, a collection of poetry. Meelan also has an audiobook on Storytel titled And Then We Met Again, voiced by best-selling author Ravinder Singh. Today, we come to get another glimpse into her life! Read on to know more about the person behind this wonderful story!
When did you realize you needed to write?
In my second year, when I wrote my first novel, The Guest. I felt that if I don’t write the stories of these weird, loud voices in my head, I might go crazy.
What would you say your writing process is like?
I plot my entire novel before I start writing the book. However, my actual writing process is messy. I don’t write scenes sequentially. I write whichever scenes I feel the strongest about and dive in. And I almost always end up writing a different book than the one I intended to write or plotted at the beginning. Some elements, plotlines, even characters change altogether midway.
But in the end, I’m always happy with the result because the book I plan before I write the first draft doesn’t foresee all the loopholes I’ve missed and roadblocks I’ll hit later. And there’s a lot more fun in writing a book this way, than just writing a meticulously plotted story that doesn’t give me the liberty to stray.
Any special quirks while you write?
I can type without looking either at the screen or at the keyboard. This is told (and imitated) by my sister. When I’m deeply into a scene (typing it), I will sometimes look to the side or towards the sky with a possessed look on my face. I’ve also been told it’s kind of scary. You wouldn’t want to see it.
What was the weirdest thing you had to research for when writing the book?
For writing What if it’s you? I only researched the current retelling on Cinderella with gender-swap, to ensure I don’t write something that’s already been done. But for A Long Way Home, I had to do some weird searches, like:
The inside of a real dance bar with dancing girls and the kind of clothes they wear.
What happens when you shoplift in India and can you get away with it.
What’s the maximum punishment you can get if you shoplift in India, etc.
For another unpublished book of mine, I had to research the consequences of a homicide.
What inspired you to write this particular gender-swap story?
The lack of fairytale retellings in the Indian setting and in the Indian market. I love retellings but none of the contemporary Indian authors were doing it. So I decided I should.
What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?
If you could wait until the next and final book in this duology releases, you’ll find out.
(Yay!! So we have a sequel coming out!!!!!)
What are your favourite books?
The Palace of Illusions and The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni,
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho,
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini,
The Liberation of Sita by Volga,
Plays by Vijay Tendulkar and Mahesh Dattani,
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.
If you were deserted on an island, which three people would you want to have with you? Why? Criteria:
One fictional character from your book – Vihang, from ‘What if it’s you?’ He is a fun-loving, sarcastic guy who will do the cooking and find the best way to go about on the island while making the whole stay entertaining.
One fictional character from any other book – Othello, a past crush. The able-bodied war hero of Shakespeare, full of pride. He’s so opposite to Vihang that it would be fun to have them together on the island.
One famous person that is not a family member or friend – Ellen DeGeneres because I could take her along everywhere if I could.
What’s something you are really good at, that few people know about?
I’m somewhat good at playing the keyboard and finding notes on it by hearing a song. I don’t know what the notes or chords that I play are called because I’m not formally trained. But I can locate the notes once I hear the song, a thing I’ve inherited from my father who is much faster at it (although untrained). I do want to get formally trained in playing piano though.
What if it’s you? synopsis
A retelling of Cinderella with role reversal set in contemporary India
What if hearts met first and then the faces? Would love look different?
A 19-year-old movie-star returns to her hometown to finish her education. Having traded her childhood for fame and success, she now craves for a simpler college life and deeper friendships that go beyond flattery and fakeness. The town, however, gives her everything else but that.
So she hides a letter in a bookstore and asks the recipient to be her pen pal. Hoping to find one meaningful friendship in this old beach town of South Goa, she adds only one condition for her recipient to follow. They won’t reveal their identity until they form a strong bond of friendship first.
The letter is discovered by Vihang, a 20-year-old guy who gets bullied in college and bossed around at home by his stepmother and stepbrother. On a default flight mode, Vihang takes whatever life throws at him with a pinch of salt (and loads of sarcasm). As Vihang’s own life begins to fall apart, the girl starts becoming his escape from reality. And neither of them realises when the feeling of love begins to bloom.