Category Archives: Dysfunctionality

Dark Circles by Udayan Mukherjee

Dark Circles by Udayan MukherjeeTitle: Dark Circles
Author: Udayan Mukherjee
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 9789388134910
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 215
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I got to know very recently that Udayan Mukherjee is the brother of Neel Mukherjee. Not that it matters to the writing of this review, however, I just thought I should let this information be out there. Alright, now to the book. Dark Circles by Udayan Mukherjee is the story of a family, torn apart by a secret, at two points in the family’s history. There is a lot happening in this novel. Ronojoy and Sujoy’s mother dies alone in the Ashram she retreated to quite suddenly twenty-eight years ago, after the death of her husband. She has left a letter behind for her sons, in which contains a secret that has the power to wreak havoc in their lives. Though this might seem to be the plot, there is a lot more taking place in this novel.

The book is also about family (but of course), it is about depression, about how to live in the face of tragedy, and how decisions made once can never be undone. It is about forgiveness, and more than anything else, about redemption and the human heart. The writing is sparse, to the point and extremely moving in most places. What I wanted from the book was more. I wanted to know more about the bond between the brothers, what their father Subir was like (though Mukherjee has said a lot about him, there is so much more to know), what were the relationship dynamics, and why was their mother Mala the way she was.

I am also aware and agree that the writer isn’t supposed to spoon-feed the reader all the time, but all the same, I thought a little more could’ve been added. The characters are wonderful, there is this sense of darkness hanging over each of them, that lends beautifully to the telling of the story and to the title as well. Udayan Mukherjee for sure knows how to tell a story, to keep the reader gripped from page one. More than anything else, it is about relationships and ties that bind us and sometimes tear us apart.

 

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Missing, Presumed Dead by Kiran Manral

Missing, Presumed Dead

Title: Missing, Presumed Dead
Author: Kiran Manral
Publisher: Amaryllis
ISBN: 978-9387383685
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery/Family
Pages: 268
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

I do not read thrillers. I normally stay away from them. From most of them at least. But, “Missing, Presumed Dead” is not just another thriller or not just a thriller at all for that matter. It is so much more and thank god for that! I read one of Kiran’s books before picking up this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. That one was eerie, with some suspense and kept me on the edge. This one on the other hand is more contemplative, it has its elements of thrill but what pulled me toward it was the language (simple and effective), characterisation and pacing. At no point did I feel the book go flat or not living up to my expectations.

As the synopsis will tell you, “Missing, Presumed Dead” is a story of a dysfunctional marriage, about half-sisters Aisha and Heer, and Aisha’s husband Prithvi with his own agenda (or so it seems). What the synopsis doesn’t tell you is how the story is beautifully woven and that too set on the outskirts of a town in the hills of North India. Manral creates magic where scene is concerned. And it is as though her characters and the story just blends right in, effortlessly – it inches from page to page and as a reader, you are sucked into her world.

Every scene, every dialogue between characters or for that matter even what they are thinking is clear, inviting and makes you want to know more. What happened to Aisha? What happened to Heer right after? Why is Prithvi the way he is? And the children at the centre of all this drama. What I admired the most about the book is that Kiran does not dumb it down for the readers, nor does she play safe. She enters a territory that is dangerous, dark and in my opinion not many Indian writers have managed to explore mental health the way she has in this book.

At the same time, the story is completely readable and racy (for lack of a better word, my apologies). Manral explores a different genre, gets out of her comfort zone and manages to do all of this with a lot of substance in plot and the narrative. “Missing, Presumed Dead” is the kind of book that you’d want to finish in a day (that’s exactly what I did). So keep a day ready for it.

 

Ponti by Sharlene Teo

PontiTitle: Ponti
Author: Sharlene Teo
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1509855322
Genre: Teenagers, Friendship, Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You read books that have similar plots. You also read books that surprise and stun you. Those books are rare and far and few in between. “Ponti” for sure is one of them! At the same time, it is a weird book in the sense of time and its shift – the constant back and forth, which only lends itself beautifully to the novel. “Ponti” also masterfully moves away from being just a “perspectives” novel to include landscape, culture, and ethos of not only a city but also friendship and matters of the heart.

“Ponti” is a story that centres mainly on two years – 2003 and 2020. Place: Singapore. Sixteen year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, who was once an actress and now is just a hack medium performing séances with her sister in an almost dilapidated house. Szu then happens to meet Circe – who is not only quite expressive to the point of being offensive but also privileged. Their friendship is the start of something, offering Szu an easy escape. Things happen, life changes and seventeen years later – life is off to another start, with a project and secrets that decide to not remain secrets anymore.

Might I add here that after reading this book, all you’d want to do is visit Singapore. Teo makes the city come alive like no other writer and just for that (if I had to pick one element of the book that is) I would highly recommend this book. The writing is edgy and full of wonders – good and bad. Yes, I would believe there could be bad wonders – or would that just be shocking so to say.

Teo’s writing is so powerful – at times I thought the wind had been knocked off me. I loved the pace and the style. The characters face loneliness, angst, and confusion like no other – this causes them things to do which perhaps they wouldn’t and that’s where most of the story stems from. “Ponti” also needs patience in the first couple of pages, after which for me it was a smooth ride. A read that is fascinating, worrying and also insightful in so many ways.

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners

Title: America for Beginners
Author: Leah Franqui
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062668752
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Now, I have read a lot of books about immigrants and their lifestyles and what happens when you move countries or come to America, as they say. But this is not a story of an immigrant. In fact, it is just a story of a mother who has to come to terms with her son’s sexual preference and lifestyle, after his death. This struck a chord. It hit home and stayed there for a while. I was constantly thinking of my mother and what was she going through when I came out to her and could relate her thoughts and emotions to that of Pival’s. But “America for Beginners” is not just Pival’s story. It is the story of Pival, Satya and Rebecca – each trying to find something or the other – some big meaning in their lives and happen to do it together.

“America for Beginners” is not sentimental. It is for sure an emotional piece of work. It is also compassionate and funny where it needs to be and that is also something I found extremely liberating about the writing. It doesn’t get bogged down by the intensity of the story. Franqui finds humour where she can. A Bengali widow Pival comes to the US of A, to know more about her son Rahi, after a year of his coming out, and in the wake of his death. She has never travelled alone and all she wants is to fit the missing pieces of her son’s life – the son she never knew, also through his partner Jake (you will get to read more about him. Not saying a word for now). Here but obviously she meets Satya, a guide who has never left the five boroughs – an immigrant who doesn’t have a clue where life is headed. Then there is Rebecca – an aspiring young actress with demons of her own to tackle. These three are headed for a road-trip (that again makes it all the more fun) they will remember forever.

This has all the makings of a movie. In fact, I think it is also written to be made into a film. Having said that, I for one did not get bored or did not face a reading slump at all when reading this book. There are also some stereotypes the book is ridden with, and yet I did not have a problem with that as well. There are perspectives, lives, emotions and how we deal with each other as human beings which is most important – than just being a mother, friend, or son.

 

 

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout Title: My Name is Lucy Barton
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-1400067695
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are times when you stumble on books, do not read them, or read a couple of pages and drop them. You pick them up again and do not get past a couple of pages. You pick it up again (the specific, dreaded book in question) and yet you just cannot seem to make it beyond the thirtieth page or so. Till one fine day, you pick it up and voila! You just cannot seem to stop reading it. In fact, you don’t want the book to end. You want it to continue, to unravel its secrets, the words that consume you and in turn make you think things about your life.

Art is almost a replica of life. They say it imitates life. I say, it just is. “My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout may not resonate page by page or in the overall sense of plot, but there are places where it will take your breath away (it at least did that to me). It is a very regular story or so it seems.

Lucy Barton is unwell. She is undergoing a minor surgery and is in the hospital. It is the early 90s (not specified but you can more or less figure). Her mother visits her and stays with her for five days. The book opens with them speaking of the old days – of Lucy’s childhood, her siblings and how they lived.

That is when the secrets tumble and questions come to the fore – them being born to poverty, the time her parents locked her in a truck with a snake (why), the time her father humiliated her brother, calling him a “fucking faggot” in front of everyone after he was caught trying Mom’s high heels. We can see the family is beyond dysfunctional and redemption of any kind. Lucy is wounded, and yet she is happily married (or so we think), with two children and is on the way to becoming a writer.

Strout speaks of marriage, family, children, love, homosexuality and so much more through Lucy. And yet she makes Lucy such an unreliable narrator that you are confused but want to know so much more and after a point you do not care, if Lucy is telling the truth or not. You believe her anyway. The book is pretty much rooted in Lucy’s childhood and her reactions to things as she is an adult comes from a deep, dark, lonely place.

On the surface, “My Name is Lucy Barton” may not seem much of a book, but as you dive into its pages, you can see it for what it is and if you are looking for more answers, then there’s the sequel “Anything is Possible” (which I need to get to as soon as possible). Strout proves that brevity could most of the time be the best tool used in fiction. This book is less than two hundred pages and yet it is not a fast read. You will mull and ponder over what you read. Perhaps even go back to some sentences.

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

“It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

“Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

“You will have only one story,” she had said. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

“But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”

“But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone.”

“Because we all love imperfectly.”