Dear Cambridge

Dear Cambridge,

At the time of writing, I have described your weather to everybody as British Test Match weather. When I was younger, I used to spend days watching India’s tours of England. I’d watch the day’s play and then watch the highlights. I’d pretty much be glued to the television till my grandmother came home and insisted I do something else. That passion continued through as I grew older. Since I started following the sport, there is not one season of English test cricket I have missed till date. Every match, I hear commentators say the same thing late in the day. Lots of cloud cover, the sun shining through in the batsman’s eyes. Ball swinging, difficult session. That’s precisely how you look today, and how you have looked for each of the five days I have now spent here.

Cambridge, you will be the fourth place I call home. Thus far I have resided in Dubai, Bengaluru, and Gandhinagar, falling in love with each for different reasons. I’m curious to fall in love with you, to find out why I fall in love with you. I’m curious to understand your character – what you enjoy, and what frustrates you. I’m eager to find out your story, your stories, each and every one of them. The folklore that birthed you, the myths that continue to help you survive, and the reality that draws people like me to you from far and wide.

You represent a closed loop in my life, Cambridge. It feels surreal being here despite the fact that I am sitting in self-isolation, because for years, I have seen your logo on my certificates as I completed my IGCSE’s and A Levels. I have seen your logo across International schools in the cities I’ve visited. I have repeatedly watched CamVlogs, and Jake Wright’s Vlogs on YouTube, and have heard stories from seniors about breathing your air and experiencing your grandeur.

I cannot wait to earn your trust and be your companion.

I hope you feel the same way.

Love,

Tejas

A Love Story | Normal People, by Sally Rooney

Normal People,
by Sally Rooney,
Published by Hogarth Press (2019)
Rating: 
***

Introduction

This book was recommended to me by a friend who told me she stayed up past her bedtime to finish the book once she started. To me, that’s always a good sign: a story that keeps you gripped to make you ward off sleep is one I’m going to be curious about more often than not. Thus began my adventure with Sally Rooney. I didn’t take a break while reading the book, and my reading of the book was on one of my more productive reading days. However, what kept me going was the hope that it would get better (and better). Unfortunately, while the book was good, I felt the story and the characters – particularly supporting character arcs remained unexplored, making this a lukewarm 3.5-star book for me.

Plot

Quite straightforward. The story follows two teenagers, Marianne and Connell through their final years in adolescence and into early adulthood. They study at the same school in County Sligo and move together to Trinity College Dublin. Connell is popular at high school, and begins a relationship with unpopular Marianne, whose mother employs his mother as a cleaner. He keeps his relationship with her a secret. At Trinity College Dublin, however, the roles are reversed, as Marianne blossoms at University, while Connell struggles to fit in. The book revolves around their everchanging dynamic over the years, examining what bonds them together and what pulls them apart.

The Relationship

Fiction books that rely on characters rather than worlds, or dialogue, need to be able to have firm character arcs: motives, flaws, strengths, that help them blossom through the book. However, a critical aspect of this is their relatability, which, for me, stems out of their interactions with other characters. Where media pieces set themselves up in the context/focus of a singular relationship (think, Titanic), I enjoy them only when I find myself caring about both characters equally. It’s what upset me at the climax of Titanic. Caring about both characters equally means giving them equal footing throughout the book, and allowing them both to play out without remaining in each others’ shadow. More crucially, their interactions need to be real – and not pretense. Rooney accomplishes this by giving both Marianne and Connell strong introductions, and right off the bat, you begin to care about the fate of both characters. As they get to know one another, you begin wondering where their relationship will go. For a book like this, that is particularly helpful, and I enjoyed the fact that I cared about them so much.

However, simultaneously, I was disturbed by the manner in which they romanticized their difficulties. As things progress, there seem to be explanations for some bizarre ways both characters respond to circumstances – but no real discussion of those explanations (which are traumas).

The Writing

Sally Rooney writes beautifully. Her sentences and descriptions are vivid, and in several places, lyrical, like poetry. It’s part of why I kept reading the book. It suited the ending she had set up – which was cheesy and wonderful for the kind of writing she executes. However, it didn’t “move” me in the way that several similar pieces have previously. I wish there was more exploration of secondary characters – their mothers included, which I feel would have added depth to the book.

Conclusion

I completed the book and was left wondering at all the things that could have been. This was, for me, a good, quick, not-so-immersive read.