By Jerry Pinto
3.5 ♥ 5
In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay, through the last decades of the twentieth century, lived four love-battered Mendeses: mother, father, son and daughter. Between Em, the mother, driven frequently to hospital after her failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the father, trying to hold things together as best he could, they tried to be a family.
“Love is a hollow word which seems at home in song lyrics and greeting cards, until you fall in love and discover it’s disconcerting power. Depression means nothing more than the blues, commercially packaged angst, a hole in the ground; until you find it’s black weight settled inside your mother’s chest, disrupting her breathing, leaching her days, and yours, of colour and the nights of rest.”
I happened to read about the author winning an Windham-Campbell prize on my twitter feed.And of course, all this rampant book talk got me curious, and voila I found this gem.
The narrative flows in a non-linear style. They are bits and pieces of narrator’s conversations with Em. In a way it’s a twisted romance. This book isn’t for the impatient lot. In fact, you have to keep your eyes peeled to not miss a beat.
Story and the plot
The novel shows the side volatile side of Em’s manic depressive nature and how her family especially her son – the narrator responds and deals with it. The slow revealing of plot and the complexities of Em’s mind and her role in the family and world is beautiful to watch.
The initial chapters it’s not about the narrator at all, it’s all about Em and her life, so I was glad to learn a bit about the narrator at the end and that made all the difference.
This novel captures the Mumbai spirit perfectly, and made me feel nostalgic about the era before. From the people to places, it gave perspective and put words to what all the Bombay people keep thinking of the city.
“In this city, every deserted street corner conceals a crowd. It appears in a minute when something disrupts the way in which the world is supposed to work. It can disappear almost as instantaneously.”
In some conversations, the wit of Em truly shines through and it is hilarious. I found myself chuckling in such moments. Em’s condition was explored brilliantly. Her madness, her conversations would makes her not likable, but you end up sympathizing and even enjoying her.
Some moments especially at the end there, are heart-breaking. This is not some fancy, tied up fiction; this is gritty and very real, still beautiful. It’s almost like peeping into someone else’s journey through the madness.
The characters have rich complexities, and are real and human.
I read it slow. Although, I did finish the last three chapters in one sitting and to me they were the best chapters of the novel. It was engaging and just the ideal ending for this sort of novel. I didn’t want it to end!
Of course this isn’t a perfect book, a tad bit of fine tuning would have done some wonders. Nevertheless for a 250 ish page novel exploring such topic, it turned out brilliant. Kudos to the author. And I can’t thank him enough to bring such a novel to Indian literature scene, it’s very unique to what’s currently available and deserves all the accolades.
If you ever wanted to read something different, this is your chance.
—Take care, happy reading!—
“Books fall open, you fall in. When you climb out again, you’re a bit larger than you used to be.” – Gregory Maguire
Fancy a book talk with these bloggers?
- bug bug book reviews
- Book Stop Corner
- Fictionally Obsessed
- Brown Books & Green Tea
- Swimming Through Literature
- Bookish Whimsy