Tag Archives: literary fiction

Dangerlok by Eunice De Souza

Dangerlok by Eunice De Souza Title: Dangerlok
Author: Eunice De Souza
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143065074
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 166
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

I remember reading Dangerlok a long time ago and being so moved by it. Nothing was different this time around as well. I felt more, if not the same. Eunice De Souza, being the poet, she was makes you see the way sentences can be strung together and how poetically prose can be handled. I think this is true of most writers I have read who are poets first and then writers of prose. Having said that, I think everyone who is from Bombay or not, should read Dangerlok. It encapsulates the city like no other I’ve read set in the city.

Eunice’s Dangerlok is precise, exact, and doesn’t waste time. Its brevity astounds and makes you understand that a book need not be lengthy to say what it has to. So, what is Dangerlok about?

Dangerlok is Mumbai – the swirl, the scum, the acid aftertaste, the lingering, the seductive city who lures you and then enters your head and heart like a disease. And in between all this stands the protagonist, Rina Ferreira (positively modelled after Eunice) who is an English Literature Teacher, who lives in Santacruz East with her two parrots – Totha and Tothi and her hoard of books, writing letters to David (a man who she once loved and may be still does), enjoying a casual cab ride, observing her neighbours, friends, cabwallahs, the existence of them all and the humour and irony behind things that seem so little and normal on an average day. She comes across Dangerlok on a daily basis while smoking her cigarettes and drinking her jungli tea. She observes. She notices and dashes off letters to David about the world that surrounds her.

I cannot put a finger on what I felt while reading this book – I loved it to such a great extent. It was the description of the small things – Totha sitting on her head as she opens the door to a neighbour, the memory of having bought David Copperfield for four bucks, her worry over her parrots and hence she does not leave the city for long, the fact that she does not want to be “involved in life” and yet her heart goes out to the stray pup, nutty clerks at the post office who refuse to acknowledge, and many such instances. De Souza gives Rina her space to play, her canvas to paint and yet it’s sad that the canvas is only a mere 124-page long novella. It makes you yearn for more. There is ennui and there is hope. But you better watch out, because chances of seeing Dangerlok everywhere around you are not that slim.

 

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Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson. Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel

Acts of Infidelity Title: Acts of Infidelity
Author: Lena Andersson
Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
Publisher: Other Press
ISBN: 978-1590519035
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I love how some authors treat the subject of infidelity in their books and what is infidelity in this time and age of polyamorous relationships? Does it even exist? Hold any value? Sure it does and it is all about the people in the relationship/s after all.

Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel is a book about Ester Nilsson, writer and poet, who very quickly gets involved in an affair with a married actor, Olof Sten. She hopes he will divorce his wife and marry her. Olof is very clear about him not ever leaving his wife. He also does not object to Ester’s advances and continues the affair. The affair lasts for several years and the book is the account of that affair.

As I read the book, I found both these characters to be utterly selfish and callous in their behaviour. One knows that she can never get him so to say and continues to pursue him, no matter what. Olof basks in the attention and glory, shrugging every ounce of responsibility of the affair.

Andersson makes us see the roles we assign to women and absolve men of all responsibility. Her writing focuses on the woman being the mistress and the man nothing, so much so as going far to not even acknowledge the relationship. The writing is nuanced, racy, sentimental, and at the same time raises so many issues that you can’t help but wonder why you empathised with Olof at some point in the book. This is to me the brilliance of Andersson’s writing then to make you empathise with a character initially and then make you see under the layers of hypocrisy and who he really is at the heart of things.

The translation by Saskia is on point. She captures the frustration, ethos, confusion, and even the cruel way society boxes women as either wife or mistress in a very nuanced manner. The double standards come alive and how the book smartly raises the issues of love, faithfulness, and ultimately looks at the cheating from a feminist point of view. Acts of Infidelity is a book that is not easy to shake off once you are done with it. It is the kind of book that will also make you question the way you think or feel when confronted by such situations, either through your experience or someone else’s. A definite read for our times.

Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis

Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis Title: Sea Monsters
Author: Chloe Aridjis
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1784741938
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Sea Monsters is a mesmerising novel. Really it is. About a seventeen-year-old Luisa who lives in Mexico City and takes off one autumn afternoon. She gets on to a bus to the Pacific Coast with a boy named Tomás who she barely knows. He is everything she isn’t and maybe that’s the pull. What are they on the lookout for? What is it that they are seeking? Well, for that you must really read the book.

Sea Monsters is coming-of-age in a way that I have rarely read before. Aridjis makes it even more great by jumping between narratives – from character-driven to research and plot driven which had me hooked. The storyline is most certainly unsettling, given the teenager being the protagonist and, on the run, however, it is the routine that drives the novel and the knowledge of how most voyages either fail or make it.

The book is about the search for meaning and what life is all about. It may also seem quite a cliché come to think of it, but it isn’t once you start seeing the writing for what it is, and more than anything else it is about individual quests which will leave you a dazzled reader. The book is all about Luisa’s choices and how they impact her and the ones around her. The writing reminded me of Lucia Berlin, Maggie Nelson, and a little bit of Anne Tyler as well (her initial novels).

Sea Monsters is the kind of book that is subtle, enjoyable, and raises pertinent questions along the way – they need not be answered though. They are asked perhaps to just get the reader to mull over them. It is the kind of book that is graceful, fantastical (read it and you shall know), and extremely eloquent. I would definitely reread it at some point.

 

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future Title: Memories of the Future
Author: Siri Hustvedt
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1473694415
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I have always loved reading Siri Hustvedt. She writes with an urgency and lucidity that is rare and extremely engaging. Most of the time, I feel her works are meta, and likely so given art is after all inspired by life, and that works the most when it comes to her works. Whether it is The Blazing World or The Sorrows of an American or even What I Loved, every book has a trace of her life and that is the connecting factor for the reader.

Memories of the Future is a novel about time, memory, desire, and obsession at the core of it. It is a novel about New York in the late 70s – forever dynamic, changing, and bursting at the seams. At the same time, it is a novel of the present – of the diary SH kept in the 70s and reads it now – recalling the time she lived next to Lucy, and what transpired then.

The technique of a story within a story isn’t new, but just the way Hustvedt writes about it is seamless and original. Her observations on memory and how time wraps itself around it in all its vulnerability is touching. The book is about a narrator and a very strong one at that. You may not even come across many characters, but you do get used to the writing, which keeps you engaged and wanting more.

Memories of the Future is the kind of book that has a range of opinions, thoughts, and memories. I had to go back and forth multiple times, but it was truly worth it. Madness and sanity have a wonderful balance as well. It is an extremely stimulating novel, by a very intelligent writer. The kind that is crisp and on point with most things. A novel not to be missed at all.

Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi

Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi Title: Small Days and Nights
Author: Tishani Doshi
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-9388912709
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Small Days and Nights had me break into a sweat for most part. I fervently turned the pages, wanting to know what would happen next to Grace and Lucia, to their dogs, and Mallika. For most part, I was on the edge of the proverbial seat so to say, and for the other part, I was mulling, thinking, pondering, and submitting to Doshi’s writing and worldview.

I recall going through the same feeling of angst, hopelessness, and some hope while devouring The Pleasure Seekers in 2010. It has been eight years now and Doshi’s writing is just as evocative, raw, and with a passion that will perhaps burn the reader.

The world Tishani Doshi builds in Small Days and Nights is a small one. Often uncomplicated even, often without layers, and is all about the day to day living of two sisters – who have discovered each other late in life. Grace stumbled upon the existence of Lucia (who is living the Down Syndrome), as she returns to Pondicherry, where her dead mother awaits cremation. Lucia has been living in a residential facility their mother helped build. Grace moves Lucia with her to a tiny coastal village in Tamil Nadu – Paramankeni, a place that is at least three hours away from most human contact. And not to forget, the year is 2010. Grace and Lucia live quiet (or so it seems) lives with Mallika, a village woman who lives on their property as a cook and a guard, also looking after the many adopted dogs.

This novel is deceptive in the sense that while it seems to be calm on the surface, a lot is taking place beneath the surface – Lost relationships that refuse to be found, parental bonds (their Italian father is in Venice, who was estranged from their mother many years ago and is acousticphobic as well) that are not quite there, a family that isn’t your typical family (but what is a typical family anyway?), and women who are cocooned in a world of their own, where men will not let them be. That theme runs throughout the novel – incidents happen on their property, men look creepily, and the sea rages in the distance.

Doshi creates a world that has its moments of grace, of kindness, of empathy beyond recognition and yet there are times through her writing where darkness makes itself known. Her characters love and also fall short of love. Her writing is razor-like and also quite a balm at most times – it soothes and cuts sharp. It seethes with anger and knows when to smile. The descriptions linger long after, the taste of the sea remains, the sound of the dogs barking, and the restlessness strike home.

Grace and her parents are aware of their failings and that’s what makes them so real and at the same time quite unforgiving. You don’t feel for Grace – it is hard to, but as a reader you understand loneliness, and the right to claim life in whatever capacity. Women’s experience in public and personal places, of caring for someone with special needs, forgiveness, and the need to understand that all of us are perhaps sailing in the same boat is the heart of Small Days and Nights, and yet there is the awareness that it can all be undone quite easily.