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.
To portray a family in a fiction is always interesting. It brings more nuances for the author to write on, as well as for the reader to enjoy. The relationships between the characters aside, it also brings the different aspects to each character’s character sketch. Families these days are becoming more nuclear. A marriage function is done with a lot of care and attention to detail. It’s an occasion of much joy, and the event where units of the family return to the home to make the occasion more memorable. This novel talks about a joint family that comes together on the occasion of a marriage, but what follows is much more than the excitement of just the marriage.
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)
“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)
About the author:
Gauri Jayaram is a mother of two girls, amateur athlete and a part-time writer. She is also a management school drop-out, traveller, entrepreneur, and in full time employment with the world’s largest escorted touring company. She is a little bit of many things, and still not satisfied. This book is her debut offering.
Cover and blurb:
A girl with a large suitcase in hand, as if she’s going on a journey, inviting us on the journey with her. The blurb indicates that the journey she is inviting us on is her life. And the book promises to be inspiring.
As a writer, I often find myself taking solace in and from what I write. Fictionalizing the world around me seems to be the way to make the world seem less (or more) than what it actually is. But I haven’t quite got around to the idea of fictionalizing my own life. To read an author who has done so was a change that I liked.
Wise Enough To Be Foolish by Gauri Jayaram is a partly fictionalized memoir. It starts with confusion in her life and ends with resolution, so it is a transformation that shows a woman who is confident enough to know what she wants to do, how she wants to go about living her life and makes the choices she (and not the world around her) feels is right.
She falls in and out of love (who hasn’t?), she marries out of religion (cultural norms most of us are brought up with forbid this usually), and goes against her parents’ wishes (most of us fear to, no matter how silly the matter would be). She is influenced by what and who are around her (aren’t we all at times?).
The story is an engaging, simple, yet realistic view of life. It is direct yet layered, sweet yet bittersweet. How the author has brought up the mindset of society and shown we can live life without paying attention to it is quite brilliant. Her way of narration makes it seem like we’re right there as she takes that journey as well. The cover suddenly makes more sense, as it feels she’s taking the extra baggage off her mind and sharing it with us, making her load lighter.
It would have been better if she could have shown a little more stability in life. She falls into one situation, almost gets bored of it and falls out of it almost immediately. True, that is how life is at times, but still. Another thing that could have been better is her rapport with her parents. I agree that disagreeing with them is agreeable, but not fully. The soft corner for the parents is there, but maybe the extent of disagreement was a little extra. Again, the way she has narrated may be how it has happened. These are just my two pence.
I personally feel this is a one-time read. But this book would appeal more to others. Well written book.
Title: Wise Enough To Be Foolish
Author: Gauri Jayaram
Genre: Fictionalized Memoir
Publishers: Jaico Books
Price: INR 225
(11th Nov, 2013)