Tag Archives: women writers

Bhaunri by Anukrti Upadhyay

Bhaunri by Anukrti Upadhyay Title: Bhaunri
Author: Anukrti Upadhyay
Publisher: Fourth Estate India, HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353570033
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 148
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 stars

Bhaunri is the book that should be read on a rainy day. It is short and can be finished in less than an hour and a half. It is atmospheric. It is everything that you want from a book not set in a milieu you are familiar with. The writing makes you turn the pages, and also because you want to know how to book ends.

This novella by Anukrti Upadhyay is set in a village in Rajasthan. The protagonist, Bhaunri is married, according to the customs of her nomadic tribe of blacksmiths at a very young child, till the time comes for her husband and his family to take her away. She is a young woman now and is aware of the ways of the world. Her parents have taught her well and at the same time given her the liberty to think for herself. There is another angle to it – her parents’ love story which I will not reveal.

Bhaunri finds herself drawn deeply to her husband Bheema. The love isn’t only physical but also all-consuming. Her mother-in-law and her marital life are also a very important part of the book. With the great atmospheric background of the desert and village life, the drama plays out, to reach the end that I didn’t have in mind.

I liked the book because like I said the setting had me gripped from the first time. The folklore, the myths, the superstition, and above all the food that was cooked all worked. Plus the way the author describes the house and what goes on in there – the shed, the workings of sleeping outside in winter, so on and so forth.

What didn’t work is that the pace seemed too rushed. I felt that there was a tearing hurry to just finish the book and not build on the emotions of other characters, except Bhaunri. Also, the second-half of the book (well not like a film), somehow just left me feeling that a lot could’ve gone down (with one character just being a prop and the other not being spoken about at all), yet I guess it is to the author’s discretion.

Having said this, Bhaunri is a book that is refreshing and full of female agency and must be read to explore new lands, thoughts, and ways of life. A book that will sure want me to read her other book Daura in due time.

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The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

The Last House Guest

Title: The Last House Guest
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1786492913
Imprint: Corvus
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I’d forgotten how much fun it is to read a thriller. I was too caught up reading literary fiction, till I picked up this thriller I had requested from Atlantic Books UK, and couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. That’s the true worth of a great thriller, I guess. You have to read it in one-sitting. The Last Guest House has all the tropes of a good thriller – environment, the right kind of pace, characters that are being looked on with suspicion, police that are clueless and earnest at the same time, and a local detective who seems to know it all.

The Last House Guest is about a wealthy woman named Sadie who dies unexpectedly on a holiday. The destination: Littleport, Maine – a vacation spot for the wealthy, and the people in the town who take care of them. Friendship strikes between a visitor and a local – Sadie Loman and Avery Greer. A solid friendship – that comes to an abrupt end when Sadie is found dead, and well of course the one under big-time suspicion is Avery.

You might think you know how this will pan out (as did I) but you are wrong (as was I). The thriller elements of The Last House Guest , like I said are just about right – including the timeline jump – past to present which works all the time for me as a reader. The twists and turns seemed generic sometimes, but I am willing to let go of that because the story reads in a very straightforward manner and that helps. The book does pack in the right amount of punch (apologies for using this word), just that sometimes you also wish that there was more of the characters’ backstory and motivations. All in all, a great read – a thriller I enjoyed after a long time.

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane Title: Rules for Visiting
Author: Jessica Francis Kane
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 9781783784646
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Jessica Francis Kane’s book, Rules for Visiting grows on you. Much like the trees and grass spoken about in the book. Much like how they are an intrinsic part of the book, as the protagonist is a gardener. May Attaway, is a 40-year-old gardener who lives in her parents’ home with her father, an 80-year-old man inhabiting the basement (his own accord). May’s mother died when she was 40 and this kicks off May’s choice to change some things about her life. The primary one being to go and visit four of her women friends, with whom she has lost touch.

Thank God that this book isn’t one about intimacy of women that will give you the warm cuddly feeling. It is an honest book about honest relationships, and how they are in life – twisted, damaged, complicated, and yet the kind that leave space for repair.

Her friends’ lives are something else altogether – one of them is going through a divorce (quite expected), another is a new wife and a stepmother to two boys, and as the book progresses you see how May changes as a person (not altogether but in small ways). Kane’s May is flawed and knows it. She is aware, and tries not to be a bother when visiting her friends. The rules for visiting comes from there – it also signifies how we have to make our spaces without it being an intrusion in homes we visit.

Rules for Visiting is hilarious, often a lot of fun, and also has a lot of twists and turns to it that are touching and ironic as well. The book is about friendship – what we take for granted and let go for years, and what we come back to. And then it connects to the environment beautifully with descriptions of trees, and what they stand for when it comes to life and living.

Also, the character of May that tries very hard to be reliable, but is sometimes just taken in by what she sees around her. I loved the fact that she was so human. Rules for Visiting is about the lost art of friendship and what it takes in our world clogged and bogged down by social media to rekindle it, to get in touch without any guilt or fear, and ensure that relationships last beyond just a screen. Rules for Visiting is the kind of book that perhaps most people will relate to instantly. A must-read, in my opinion.

Beast by Krishna Udayasankar

Beast by Krishna Udayasankar Title: Beast
Author: Krishna Udayasankar
Publisher: Penguin eBury Press
ISBN: 978-0143444480
Genre: Thriller, Fantasy
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

So, I must admit that I do not read Indian crime or fantasy. That’s just my preference and nothing to do with how its written. Although this time I made an exception and deep-dived into “Beast” by Krishna Udayasankar and loved every bit of it. I think it had to do a lot also with the pacing, beside most things. It works superbly for a novel of this nature – a novel steeped in mystery, reads like an action thriller (is also by the way), and interspersed richly with fantasy, character development and parallel running storylines that do not lose sight of overall plot.

Beast is an urban fantasy thriller, deeply set in Indian myths and legends. Krishna Udayasankar doesn’t stray from what she knows best and that’s fantastic to me as a reader. I’ve read Immortal and loved the way the story was told. The narration of Three left me stunned. And might I also add, that her books grow on you. The narration grabs you and then you are hooked. Beast delivers on all of this and more.

Aditi Kashyap, the assistant commissioner of police is called to solve a gory triple homicide in a Mumbai suburb. The story starts this way and before you know it, she is a part of the terrifying world of the Saimhas – werelions, who live alongside humans since ancient times. She joins hands with Prithvi, an Enforcer called on to solve this case and hunt the murderer. That is the plot in a nutshell.

Udayasankar’s writing is detailed, rich, and her dialogues are absolutely on-point. No sentence is out of place. No one is out of character at any point and of course the female agency that Aditi has is much-needed in art. And might I also add that this isn’t your cliché werewolf story, if that’s what you think it is. Not at all. Far from it. I loved the  friendship between characters The friendship and camaraderie was something else and worked like a charm – the one that you can perhaps relate to in daily life.

Beast most certainly also needs a sequel to answer some plot points, however, that’s just my POV. The book is extremely entertaining, and if you like a good fantasy-cum-thriller, this is the book for you. Hands Down! Even if you don’t like this genre, pick up the book.

 

Magical Women. Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Magical Women Title: Magical Women
Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9388322027
Genre: Fantasy, Magic
Pages: 232
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

An anthology isn’t easy to edit. There are varied voices – each with their own agenda, writing style, and each writer that adds wonderfully to the collection. Sukanya Venkatraghavan, author of Magical Women has done a wonderful job of the anthology of 14 Indian women writers writing fantasy and all things magical in the aptly titled, “Magical Women”.

All these stories may seem similar at some level, and probably they are – most of them reflect on Indian magical creatures and stick to making them relevant for our time and age. What is also wonderful is how the “feminist angle” is subtle, but strong. It doesn’t shout out from the rooftop, but it is there – in your face, making you aware of how you read some narratives or stories.

The collection starts off with “Gul” by Shreya Ila Anasuya – a story of love, a story of freedom, a story of longing and nostalgia that was rounded beautifully. A read that I still think of once in a while.

There are also the obvious stories of goddesses in the modern context and they work superbly as well. The one that stood out for me was Nikita Deshpande’s “The Girl who Haunted Death” – a story of Savitri and her love for her husband. But this one of course is with a twist that I would not want to reveal. The prose and the context of this story astounded me – almost made me think of various conclusions and interpretations, and that’s what a good story is supposed to do.

All these stories infuse new life to the form of storytelling – they don’t follow a linear plot and even if it seems that they do, it is usual very deceptive. Kiran Manral’s story, “Stone Cold” for instance is dystopian in nature and deeply rooted in ancient myths and culture. The merging of the two makes it unique, but not only that – the brevity of the story makes it even more interesting.

We live in times when patience runs thin. People need to consume content at a fast pace, and something that is also very relevant and thought-provoking, and above all entertaining. Sukanya Venkatraghavan has done a fantastic job of merging these elements when it comes to setting up this anthology. More than anything else, the writers have individually contributed to the whole idea beautifully.

Yes, like any other anthology, you don’t expect to love them all. I have my favourites and then there are the ones that aren’t favourites. However, every story will find its reader. The one who will love that story more than the others.

Whether it is “Gandaberunda” by S.V. Sujatha, a tale of a sinister tattoo, or “Apocalyptica” by Krishna Udayasankar which will take you by surprise, even though you think you have an idea of what it is going by the title, every story says something unique.

I loved the overtones of feminism and also its undertones, depending on the writer. Neither the writers of these stories, nor the stories themselves fit in a box. I think for the sake of convenience we shall catalog them in a genre. After all, “Magical Women” aren’t meant to be handled by all. Definitely not mere mortals. Read the book though. It is all worth it.