Just when I was thinking an author cannot surprise me more, this book comes along. Quaint English villages weren’t enough for murder mysteries, perhaps, so Dame Agatha Christie goes a step further with this… a crime fiction in ancient Egypt.
Once a reader becomes totally interested and lost in the magical world of Harry Potter, it’s a little difficult to come out of it. The magic remains. It’s as binding as Petrificus Totalus, you could say. For me, the world holds a lot of memories, and it definitely made my childhood a lot better. One of the first box sets I purchased after starting to earn my own salary was this series, and the accompanying three books of the Hogwarts Library. So when the announcement came that a new book based on the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was going to be released, there definitely was excitement. It was evident on my timeline as well; as I saw most Potterheads share the news eagerly. The clarification that it was not a novel, but a script, that did little to douse the excitement. Those who wouldn’t be able to see the play would at least get to read it and imagine, right?
I am not sure how to word this review. It’s as simple as that. The power of imagination makes us infinite, said John Muir. But sometimes, it isn’t the infinite that manages to keep a reader captivated, but the finite. It’s the finite boundaries of a story woven to keep us there, in that small world, follow the characters, enter their lives with the narration and become part of it, that charms us. Such stories are rare. You only imagine the next step, and not the possibilities that wait for us when the novel draws to its close. This is one such novel.
Like I said in one of my earlier reviews, the length of a work of fiction doesn’t affect the quality. In fact, a short novella is a welcome break from reading long winding plots. When the tone of the novella is light and fun, it makes for a very refreshing change; and a change that I quite needed.
The Guest by Suneetha Balakrishnan explores one day, one very eventful day in the life of a couple. A small tiff makes the two of them uneasy and through the day, they travel back in time, to the journey they have shared and take us along with them. Sameer is the qualified, well-employed husband, a “catch” in the eyes of society, kind man without any bad habits. And Kavitha, his wife, is similar in character, but not a pushover in any sense of the word. Then there is Sameer’s mother Saraswati (Mama) and his cousin Arjun, the other prominent characters as well. I’ll not go too much into details.
The novella, as I mentioned earlier, is a light and fun read. You can finish it in an hour or two, and you wouldn’t notice the time fly by. Unlike most Indian serials, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are fast friends here, something I loved seeing. The characters are well fleshed. You see Sameer’s pride come to the fore during that momentary lack of judgment. Saraswathi understands her son very well, and also her daughter-in-law. Kavitha is observant, and those minute observations help her in making decisions. The flashbacks and narration from different viewpoints help make this novella a page turner. And the ending is also one that fit the tone of this novella. On the flipside, there were one or two grammar glitches. I can’t point out where, since it got lost in the reading. And the ending left me a little confused, but I think I understood it right in the end.
I think this is a wonderful novella to read at any given time, but especially on a short journey, or any time you need a break from a heavy read. I’m happy to have read it for sure.
Title: The Guest
Author: Suneetha Balakrishnan
Genre: Fiction / Drama
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Price: INR 61
(25th November 2014)
If there is one genre that I love to read, it is a murder mystery. To know the crime, and then read along, trying to solve the crime with each turning page, it’s quite fun. I’ve grown up reading Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, not to forget the delightful Perry Mason. When author Rasleen Syal asked me if I would read and review her debut novel, I happily accepted it. The title intrigued me, and then the cover, a very simple yet captivating one, convinced me that it was going to be a good read.
When you are suspected of a crime, the natural reaction is to try and prove yourself innocent. Or if you are aware of the other suspects, try to prove one of them guilty. That’s the basic premise of the book Happily Murdered, where the crime happens in a place where no one from the outside can enter without permission, and police being absolutely certain that the murderer is a part of the family. Who has the most to gain by Gulab Sarin’s death? Why was she poisoned on the very next night of her wedding?
Detectives: Each character has something to hide, or something to benefit from the crime, so each of them turn detective in the novel, so suffice to say, this aspect of a crime fiction is different compared to the usual novels and each character is interesting. One particular character that manages to bring a smile is the character of Biji, who reminds me so much of the dominative female character I’ve come across in quite a few Indian family serials. Though the police are mentioned at the start of the novel, and in the case-file, they are surprisingly missing from the rest of the book until the end.
Victim & Motive: Gulab Sarin, a girl unappreciated by her family and befriended by her “future” husband Sid when she was a kindergartner, accepted and loved by his family and in love with him to the extent that she’s willing to forgive his faults. In a Poirot-esque ending, there is a conjecture as to why she was the perfect victim, and what the motive was for the crime. It was interesting and unexpected, though I still wished the revenge motive was executed some other way. You could say Gulab’s character deserved better than death.
Pace: With the book becoming partly a family drama along with the crime fiction, the pace of the novel isn’t as quick as you’d expect it to be. A businessman father-in-law, who distrusts his son; the beauty-conscious mother-in-law who changes her look as often as she drinks; the husband whose character is very shady and makes you wonder why a character like Gulab would marry him in the first place; her best friend who is also her brother-in-law… the book has a mix of characters that make for a tricky, yet fun reading. However, Gulab’s voice/ghost returning between with recollections and flashbacks, and each member hunting for clues keeps the pages turning. I also liked the presentation of the case file, which gives an insight into each character at the start. I returned to that a few times to check if I understood the characters correctly. The end, where one of the characters pieces together the jigsaw is the best part perhaps; like I said, it is Poirot-esque, and shows the influence Agatha Christie has had in Rasleen’s writing style. But it is not clear how the final twist is arrived at, even though it makes sense.
In general: Rasleen’s narrating style, with simple English and absolutely no regional lingo thrown in, keeps the reader engaged from first to last, but the editing could be much better. There are typographical errors here and there, and sometimes a word is missing or pluralized. These stand out more prominently when the plot makes you turn the pages back to check if you have understood it correctly.
Verdict: As it is, the book has a plot that is different. With some clarity on how the “detective” pieces together the case in the end, and another scan through for correcting those editing mistakes, it would have become even better. However, this remains a delicious debut from a talented author.
Title: Happily Murdered
Author: Rasleen Syal
Genre: Crime Fiction
Publisher: Srishti Publishers & Distributors
Price: Rs. 195
(7th September 2014)
“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.” – Jim Butcher
But sometimes, even in the family, everything seems to have gone to hell. What then? I sometimes wonder if a family story where all things are happy and in-place feels right. In every family there is a bit of friction, a bit of misunderstanding or drama. It was the starting paragraph of the blurb that caught my interest, and made me nod in acceptance, though it would have to be a large family to have their share of so many kinds of characters.
Looking back after the read, the story is basically that of the main protagonist Akola (Amirta Komala Lakshmi; kind of understand the reason why she’d want it shortened). It starts off with Akola, her siblings Arjun and Anjana, and her parents Suresh and Parvati house hunting – a very united family moment. After that, the pandemonium is unleashed with a flashback. The first test for the family is the news that Arjun has got his ex-girlfriend Priya pregnant. One angle of the novel deals with Arjun and his attempts to convince Priya to get married. The story moves with that, and through the lives of Akola who is busy with her doctorate, and Anjana who is busy making a name for herself in theater. Throw in two grandparents (Parvati’s father and Suresh’s mother) and a live-in nurse and you have the share of different characters who add to the drama. This novel “How to Screw Up like a Pro” takes us on a bumpy ride through the nuances of this “family” and their journeys, past and present.
Living up to the title and the cover, each character has screwed up in one way or the other at some point in their life. Easiest example for that is Arjun’s story with which we begin – him getting Priya pregnant. Suresh screwed up by having an extra-marital affair when Akola and her siblings were children. Each character feels genuine and has a balance to them. Arjun’s character, other than his “mistake”, is portrayed as a jovial, fun-loving yet protective brother. Even the minor characters involved seem to have a quirk, and they help in pushing the story of the main characters along. One of my favorite characters was that of Thiru, and I wish there was more to their story in the novel. Looking at it deeper, there are aspects like infidelity, abuse etc. explored, but the novel doesn’t pretend that it is about those issues. It is a family story, looking at how a family handles those issues when it crops up. The novel starts out as a light-read, with simple and casual tone of narration helping it along smoothly till the “frightening incident”. The way the author brings out the emotions of each character at that point and from that point is excellent. The book feels a tad heavy then, but it’s normal and realistic of course.
I don’t think there is much to criticize in the debut effort. Personally, I would have loved to read more about Thiru and Akola’s story, maybe another chapter toward that. Otherwise I’d say this book is what it is, a light-read with some twists and turns and laughs and tears; something that can be finished in a few hours and that has enough in it to hold the interest of the reader.
Why should you read it?
Casual narration; for the most part it is a light read and has the feel of a family story.
What you may not like…
Nothing big to say here, but I’d have liked another chapter toward the story of Akola and Thiru.
Title: How to Screw Up like a Pro
Author: Abirami M Krishnan
Genre: Family Drama
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs. 299
(28th June 2014)