Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Title: Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors 
Author: Aravind Jayan
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail 
ISBN: 9781788169868
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction 
Pages: 208 
Source: Publisher 
Raring: 4/5

There is a quiet desperation to small towns. You do not know or understand it till you live in one of them – a small town, a small city, or when you are living inside your head for way too long. But more than that, there is always the desperation seen in families – not so quiet, not so loud, just the right kind of simpering, of yearning, and of grudges that fester and fester over time. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan is a book about so much that I find it difficult to pinpoint what it really is about. Jayan packs it all in 200 pages, and gives you a family stuck in time, its members grasping at the last straws of connect, of indifference even, of anything that makes them family, only to have drifted in their own different orbits, wandering, trying so hard to make it back home. 

The plot is about a couple whose video of making out or having sex is secretly filmed and is all over the Internet, and how they and their families deal with it. Amma and Appa have no names. The girl’s parents are just Anita’s mother and father. The boy is Sreenath. The boy’s brother, the narrator of the story is also nameless. In such cases, it is the names of the couple that are hidden. Jayan gives them agency to not be answerable to anyone. This is small-town India, this is a scandal, and then there is the question of family and society, that Jayan handles with humour, dryness, matter-of-fact, and making us aware of the hypocrisies that at the heart of the narrative. 

The narrator – the younger brother – who is only twenty, takes on the role of telling things the way they happened – from the discovery of the video, to when the story begins of the family buying a Honda Civic – a car that was meant to be a status symbol, and by the end of the story is nothing but a bad reminder of what took place after. The narrator wants so badly for things to work out – for his family to get together the way it was – anything that is normal – anything that wasn’t. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors reads like a newspaper headline – the one that gives incorrect details – the one that only wants to be sensational and malignant, and malicious at best. There is so much to talk about that goes on this novel – it is also a coming of age novel, a novel where time doesn’t matter – it exists as a plot point but never as a measure of things – never as a stock-taker, as though there is no stock of emotions. That’s another thing about this slim wondrous novel – emotions are deep-seated and multi-layered. Nothing is in your face, nothing is dramatic, and even if it is – it is just maudlin at best – forced and fake. 

Jayan’s writing is refreshing – it is incisive, matter-of-fact, funny in so many places, astonishingly lucid, and makes no bones about what the family is going through. There is no sentimentality in his writing. It is life – it happens, and that’s what I got from it. Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors is a reflection of so much in the societies we inhabit and yet doesn’t become preachy at all. It is refreshing like cold lemonade on a hot day, yet infusing the claustrophobia of the day – of the perspiration on your back, of sweat patches under the arms – visible to all, no matter how hard you try to hide them.

 

Read 112 of 2022. Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Title: Pure Colour
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374603946
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have found my second best book of the year (the first one being After Sappho),  and I say this with most confidence, happiness, joy, and sheer pleasure, that it is, Pure Colour by Sheila Heti.

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti is the kind of book that has no start, perhaps no middle, and maybe no apparent end as well, but oh God does it hurt when you are done reading the book. It shines brightly, it is therapeutic, it heals, makes you cry, speaks of the world, and makes you believe (and is the truth) that it is your story unfolding, with art and books at the center of it, and the way we live today.

Love is at the core of this book. Whether it is between Mira and Annie, or Mira and her father, or between people who haven’t met each other yet, or people who have been living with each other for decades, Heti speaks of love most delicately. She also brings to fore with her writing love of different kinds, of different textures that might hurt, of love that transcends time, and bodies, and might compel you to follow the one you love in the body of a leaf. Sheila is a stupendous, unafraid, and a writer that must be read at any cost.

Pure Colour is about the state of civilisation, it is about a woman joining her dead father on another plane of being and existence, it is about art and its critics, about what we hold close and what we are willing to let go of – perhaps it is also earnest at times, but it worked for me, because I was willing to overlook that aspect of the novel.

Sheila Heti’s writing reminds me of Murdoch – of her kind of philosophy that always took the worldwide look – the angle of being and existing together – when she speaks of nostalgia, and how it was before the Internet, you cannot put the book down. When she constructs sentences like “there were so many ways of being hated, and one could be hated by so many people”, you nod, because we have all witnessed that – this kind of writing makes you want to read this book cover to cover and gift it to a friend or a couple of friends and beg them to devour it.

Pure Colour is a mad book. It is a book of our times. It is a book that is crazy, original, empathetic, unafraid, bold, and above all is mindful of the fact that we are all humans, and maybe we all hurt the same.

Read 110 of 2022. Bolla by Pajtim Statovci. Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston.

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci

Title: Bolla
Author: Pajtim Statovci
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 9781524749200
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I finished reading Bolla at a time when I am most disillusioned by love – more so when it comes to same-gender love. I am confused, whether it exists or not, whether it is possible for forever together, and happiness to be possible. If anything at all, can two men love each other? Can they truly love each other?

I am not going to say that Bolla answered these questions of mine, because they are too vague, and perhaps not to nuanced to be met with answers anyway. But what Bolla did was, it reaffirmed the fact that love isn’t easy, neither is it as simple as it seems on paper, nor is it moral, and almost never in sync with what you expect.

Bolla is a story beyond two men and their loves and lives. It is also the story of conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians, the Kosovo war, what happens to people torn by war, and in all of this – it is a story of self, identity, the confusion that rises from finding yourself, and the lengths one will go to, to do that.

Bolla makes you go through a series of emotions – from love, to lust, to wanting what the two men have, to not want it at all, to getting angry at one of them because of his choices, and perhaps then understanding his state of being, mind, and heart. You pick sides while reading this book, and then you don’t.

As a reader, I was overwhelmed in the beginning, angry at mid-point, sad right through the read, judgmental, and then wasn’t because you don’t take sides in a story where there are so many blurred lines. At some point, reading the journal entries of Miloš, I couldn’t tell if the narrator was then reliable or not.

Statovci is a genius. A master who doesn’t believe in telling all, neither does he show all. It is a beautiful balance of the two – a lyrical meditation on what we lose, how we gain, and what remains in the end.

Bolla is about self-loathing, how much are we willing to be honest to ourselves, and at what cost – it is about affairs and lives cut short, about the selfish nature of living, and all of this comes together so alive and beautiful only because of David Hackston’s most wondrous translation (whose name I wish was on the cover) from the original Finnish. Hackston never once made me feel that I was reading a translation. It was so clear, lucid, and made me feel everything that perhaps Statovci intended his readers to feel.

Bolla will not leave me very soon. It has nestled and made way inside my heart, like a snake – the mythical being the story refers and comes back to again and again. It is intimate, raw, questioning our endurance, how we don’t sometimes want the past to merge with our present, of how intertwined they all are, and above all it is about being graceful, tender, and learning to love and forgive ourselves, so we can perhaps heal.

Read 105 of 2022. The Trees by Percival Everett

The Trees by Percival Everett

Title: The Trees
Author: Percival Everett
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450642
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Trees is one of my most favourite reads of the year. It is mindful, self-aware, empathetic, brutal in its approach toward understanding a world of inequality, and the constant fight to find your place – only because you are the other – because of your skin colour, because of how you look, and how you are already perceived right from birth.

Percival Everett is a writer who also has a huge heart when it comes to using sense of humour as a device in a book about racial redemption, revenge, and then to use macabre humour, to even the slapstick, and to thread it all in with America’s long and horrifying history of lynching people of colour. Only Everett does what he does best and beyond.

There is a lot if intertextuality in Everett’s works – whether it is a writing of a novel in Erasure, or for that matter Everett’s insertion of himself in I am Not Sidney Poitier, this is how he satirizes.  In The Trees, the construction of the detective novel is used at large to drive the point home – to use the usual detective tropes to speak of justice and when do you truly feel it has been served.

I found myself mulling about the idea of vigilante justice and honestly, I didn’t find anything wrong with it – more so when the judicial system is so broken, who then do the “other”, the “discriminated against” rely on? Where does the idea of morality feature then? What can happen when things remain the same, even after decades? It takes a writer such as Everett then to show us the mirror. Of real racism that exists, of the brutality that takes place, of how lynching and shootings are treated by Americans, of how the collective White shame is not being discussed enough. The Trees is a book that will stay with me for a long time – it shows you what you do not want to see, will hold you and not let you go, and ultimately make you think or feel about the world at large.

Read 104 of 2022. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Title: Small Things Like These
Author: Claire Keegan
Publisher: Faber & Faber Ltd
ISBN: 9780571368686
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 116
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What a graceful, small novel is this! It is also full of profundity, wisdom, ideas that are constantly at war with each other, and sparse, yet telling what it must in the most succinct manner.

Small Things Like These is set in 1985 in a small Irish town, during Christmas time. It is the story of a man named Bill Furlong and his place in the world. A man who seems content with his life – his wife and five daughters, doing what he does (running a coal and timber business), and yet something is bothering him. His past doesn’t let go – his identity is being questioned by him at every step, and all he knows is that he is a man caught – between the ways of the world, and what he wants to do.

Claire Keegan brings up so much in this small book. So many issues – religion, motherhood, parenthood, of what it’s like to have children and then to worry about them, of a small town and its inhabitants – the way they live, and survive, and hope for more.

The tone of the book is simple – and covering each layer as we go along. The writing is sparse, says what it must – Keegan’s writing is both contemplative and a statement to how it is not only perhaps in a small town but also maybe universally.

The concept of being human is brought out beautifully in this small novel. Of what makes us – our honest, true selves, with all our hypocrisy, our hesitation, and most importantly about wanting to fit in at large with the people around us, often thereby overlooking who we really are.

Through Bill we are introduced to our own incapacities are humans, our own weaknesses, and our own shortcomings. Keegan made me see myself so closely – though the situation is far from similar, and yet seemed so personal on other levels.

Small Things Like These is a novel that is essential reading. Like I said, it says so much and makes you think and feel so much about the way we live, and how we grow to be who we are.

Books and Authors mentioned in Small Things Like These: 

  • Enid Blyton
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Five Go Down to the Sea
  • Five Run Away Together
  • Walter Macken
  • David Copperfield