Meatspace: The Novel by Nikesh Shukla

meatspace
A satire on the online generation

Meatspace defined as the physical world, as opposed to cyberspace is the second novel from author Nikesh Shukla; the writer behind Coconut Unlimited which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award so certainly no dilettante when it comes to the realms of fiction writingHis second novel could be described as a satire and a poke in the eye for the  new social media generation. Its an exploration of the  excesses  of being 24-7 ” connected” through that modern day monster, we call social media and how it is increasingly becoming the currency for measuring one`s own popularity and defining the way we connect to people.

coconut
Debut novel Coconut Unlimited

Novelist Kitab Balasubramanyam is a writer sandwiched in that hellish place between his first novel which suffered a  failure to launch and writing his follow-up. He is experiencing something of a second album syndrome as he tries to write his second book, grappling for inspiration from social media and becoming a serial tweeter in the process. He finds life has an annoying tendency of getting in the way as he tries to contend with the breakup with his girlfriend among other things.

Shukla really gave you a sense of what it must be like for a writer shuffling from day to day, listless, and searching for the illusive someone or something to be the lightening rod for his creative energy. The character just comes off the page and is so well drawn thanks to Shukla`s deftly constructed prose.

Nikesh Shukla
Nikesh Shukla

There are sections which read like a deliciously black (ish) style of comedy with  Kitab`s own day caught in a groundhog day. Shukla seems to tip his hat in appreciation to the comedy legend Tony Hancock. He beautifully  taps into this  Hancockian comedy-vein and there is more of the same in the form of his relationship with his father, giving us more comedy fodder.However Shukla seemed to momentarily  dangerously tread the fine line between character and caricature  but fleshes out his father`s character just enough to make you warm to him. We learn that his father is a widower who survived some dark years following the death of his wife and now  seems to be having a second wind in life. A serial dater with a penchant for attractive women  who seems to score more female attention and more Facebook likes(70% more just to add insult to injury) then his own son. His father   clearly seemed to be far more seasoned in the art of seduction then Kitab. His dad`s lion- heart courage and seize the day attitude left you wondering whether the  father and son were even  actually biologically related.

There is  a moment in the book when Shukla  unexpectedly receives an email from his Dad who usually leans more to texting. He finds a forwarded email from a woman  on a dating site declaring her intention to meet his son. The cringe  dial is turned right up when his father writes in bold “kitab son wen u free?!! Touching and cringing in equal measure. Infact  far from being a typical father he is atypical and not the least bit avuncular either.

Shukla illustrates the absurdity of social media and how  its all pervasive element seeps into  our daily lives; dictating  the way we engage with others with some light  comic touches. We are introduced to his online friend Cara who he rarely sees and lives just 45 minutes away. Yet she is annoyed that they missed their Skype dinner… yes you heard me !  Skype dinners ! and whilst they aren’t exactly separated by rough and uninhabitable jungles or terrains, the implicit rule is that they don`t meet up unless its on Skype.

Funny-Pictures-For-Facebook2
Sometimes even the best laid plans can get rumbled.

Rach is the ex- girlfriend  who occasionally gets a look-in. I personally  would have liked to have seen the character given much more page-time. It would have been interesting to have been given a first-person perspective or ring-side seat to viewing Kitab`s mad, bad and crazy world. Whilst she was apparently unfashionably unversed in the black art (to some) in managing social media and yearned for a simpler time before mobile phones, (the very antithesis of Kitab), she would have undoubtedly given the novel everyman appeal .

Shukla demonstrates he is not just about scoring laughs though and adds a layer of sensitivity to the story. There is a lovely literary motif in  the form of the left-over chutneys in a fridge, reminders of better times when they were both deliriously taken with coupledom.

We are eventually introduced to another central character in the form of Kitab2; Kitab`s own doppelganger who  finally catches up with him in person after a series of  Facebook friend requests. He is a living apparition, the  embodiment of everything nightmarish about social media all rolled into one, a sort of ghosts of all Facebooks past. Against his best efforts to unfriend ,unfollow, and block him, he soon realises that the situation is complicated. Kitab2 outstays his welcome and becomes a permanent fixture in Kitab`s life, desperately wanting to ape his own lifestyle, believing it will somehow allow him to be more successful with women.

There is of course Kitab`s brother Aziz who goes on a quest to find his own doppelganger  and chart his journey through his own blog entries which prove to be very popular, much to Kitab`s annoyance. Whilst lightly amusing, I thought  that it was an unnecessary distraction from a good story. It seemed that the character had been introduced for comedic effect only. However not to post a spoiler alert, his character does however become pivotal towards the end.

You might be forgiven for thinking it`s a  zeitgeist novel  but you would be mistaken. The book never aspires to be a all you wanted to know book or a looking- glass on the online generation. Instead Shukla delivers a novel that is more about the foibles of human nature, the bitter-sweet tragi-comedy, that is life and the vagaries of those signed up for life to the 140 character brigade. It also delivers  a cautionary tale of how  social media becomes the way we socially engage and the currency for measuring popularity as well.

Shukla demonstrates a wonderful eye for detail and gives you a warm, fuzzy at the edges story, guaranteed to have you laughing out loud at times and at others, nodding a knowing smile, over his acute observations of life, love, and everything between. Never soporific. Meatspace is a hard to put down read which will have you reaching for the next page and then the next until you dissapointingly finish.

Meatspace is published by The Friday Project.  Get it now at www.amazon.co.uk

Love international fiction ? Follow GloBooks blog. globooks1.wordpress.com. website. www.globooks.net

 

Meatspace: The Novel by Nikesh Shukla

Deepti Kapoor: Bad Character The Novel

GloBooks reviews the best in translated fiction

Deepti  Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character Deepti Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character

Vogue India described it as the “literary fiction debut of the year.” The Observer described it a “slender, mysterious and only fleetingly overwrought novel offers vivid insights into what it means to be a middle-class woman in 21st-century Delhi.” Deepti Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character has  peaked the attention of literary critics and scooped up some plaudits in the process.
Its central character Idha ,is a twenty year old college student living with her exasperated aunt in a stifling but  comfortable confines of a middleclass lifestyle. To make matters worse, she is constantly being paraded as the next suitors prize by her aunt labouring under the impression that marriage would be the  panacea for her worries and the social nirvana for Idha.

Yet dissolutioned and disenchanted by her existence ,Idha makes her visits to the coffee shop to escape her rigid, ninety degree angled and orderly existence. Written in the first person, Idha says “… here you could forget…

View original post 824 more words

Image

Deepti Kapoor: Bad Character The Novel

Deepti  Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character
Deepti Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character

Vogue India described it as the “literary fiction debut of the year.” The Observer described it a “slender, mysterious and only fleetingly overwrought novel offers vivid insights into what it means to be a middle-class woman in 21st-century Delhi.” Deepti Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character has  peaked the attention of literary critics and scooped up some plaudits in the process.
Its central character Idha ,is a twenty year old college student living with her exasperated aunt in a stifling but  comfortable confines of a middleclass lifestyle. To make matters worse, she is constantly being paraded as the next suitors prize by her aunt labouring under the impression that marriage would be the  panacea for her worries and the social nirvana for Idha.

Yet dissolutioned and disenchanted by her existence ,Idha makes her visits to the coffee shop to escape her rigid, ninety degree angled and orderly existence. Written in the first person, Idha says “… here you could forget the city, its ceaseless quarry of people. You could feel safe” . There she meets an older boy/man who certainly seductively wears the years of life experience. He is disapprovingly dark, both in mood and appearance, someone her aunt would never accept, and this makes him all the more alluring and all the more forbidden fruit.

She begins a heady affair and is drawn into a world where she sees  the dark  underbelly of the capital. Idha`s character hooks us in and the reader is fully engaged through her own narrative voice. She soon  makes a modern-day Faustian pact with the boy and her idea of self is completely attacked, forcing her to succumb to carnal and somehow feral desires. The story seemed to be a modern parable on that old adage of be careful what you wish for ……….

Kapoor`s writing is very evocative and so uncompromising in its portrayal of the less then salubrious sides of Delhi, the pollution, the over-crowdedness, the sounds and smells, that you can almost taste it. She captures Delhi with all its glorious soundscapes and leaves you with the image of a city positively trembling under its own colossal weight , a living, breathing church for those lowly types who scratch for a living and the high executives who subscribe to the capitalists` school of money making. It was refreshing to see how Kapoor wends us through the innards of Delhi and delivers a warts and all image of the capital rather then the romanticised chocolate box image of the city, so often found in prosaic and embroidered Asian novels.

Delhi Capital
Delhi Capital
deepti
Novelist Deepti Kapoor

Idha is a young student who feels that her middle class existence leaves her with a malaise and a desire for freedom, so desperately unfulfiled.  Yet her regular café visits seem to suggest that far from wistful or desperate about her turbid life, she is a calculated thrill- seeker and not just one of life`s ambulance chasers.

While India races ahead in the economy stakes, chasms in economic inequality and gender inequalities still exist throughout India, There is certainly a rising middle class and without dout a growing number of independent female professionals as well. Yet  women are still  sexually objectified and subject to the slavish male gaze. Kapoor is acutely aware of the presence of less then respectful attitudes towards women today.

Idha not exactly burdened by her gift that is beauty, and simply acknowledges that being the focus for a woman in modern India, is something of an occupational hazard. Her interior monologue describes  male reactions  as she travels around Delhi.” Ive been stared at a lot of course ; its what men do. Everyday from door to door, on the buses, stepping through rubble on the edge of the road, in the car struck in traffic , at red lights. Stares of incomprehension, lust rage, sad yearning, so vacant and blank sometimes, its terrifying, sometimes pitiful. Eyes filling the potholes, bouncing down the street liked marbles., no escaping their clank. Eyes in restaurants, in offices…… “ Her experiences are nothing new of course, they could be indicative of women across India.

 Is she a thrill seeker ? Or someone living for the high in  merely skirting with the possibility of breaking social taboos?  Her inner voice belies someone who is totally in control but she descends into a series of noxious relationships, masking the fact  each relationship is a one-night stand on a continuous loop, where love and commitment are strange bed-fellows. We learn early on that as a child, her father had started spending long periods “working” in Singapore. Absconding for a  life in Singapore, he is  mostly an absent father and a reluctant husband. Is the fact that she sees men now as  tools for escapism, an inability to form stable relationships with men, suggest a deep-seated  disenchantment , or even understandable “hatred ” of men as a result ?

As you engage with the novel, expecting it to be the story of one woman`s odyssey into the unknown and descent into the darker side of human psyche, Kapoor on occasions,cleverly departs from the linear novel and deploys  non-linear story telling. Idha ends up suddenly describing past moments which you think are real and lucid but maybe  just motes of her imagination where fact crosses fantasy.The slight downside is that the non- linear writing  interrupts the story`s flow and sometimes  proved to be a circuit breaker for your engagement with the novel.

The novel `s own energy seemed to deplete near the end and it felt that the story had run out of track. As a reader, you expected some form of finality or resolution. Yet there is no redemption from her less then perfect life or indeed any dramatic turnaround . She is older now and her character is fully crystallised now with all its fault-lines, perhaps mirroring real life.

Nevertheless Kapoor delivers a stylised and accomplished novel with real insights into the human condition. It leaves you fully immersed and packs  a powerful punch on your senses. She portrays a woman, hot wired in her desire for freedom ,fighting the ever lapping existence of the ever omnipotent male gaze.

Published by Jonathon Cape Random Hse. http://www.vintage-books.co.uk.  Priced £14.99.

Also available at www.amazon.co.uk.

South Asian Book Club (London based) will be reviewing Bad Character on 30th August. Places are limited. Free entry. For details email globooks@hotmail.com

Image

Nordic Noir : Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Borjlind

GloBooks reviews the best in translated fiction

 


springtideSpring Tide was the long awaited Nordic Noir novel by married writing partners Cilla and Rolf Borjlind. It involves the dark story of a night on a  beach in  Nordkoster Sweden where a young boy, hidden in the dunes, witnesses three men bury a woman up to her neck in the sand, destined for a slow and terrifying death as the tide waters slowly fill her mouth with water but there is the added complication that she happens to be pregnant as well. Fast forward twenty years later and a fresh crime wave sweeps Stockholm. A spate of rough sleepers are being badly beaten by an underground organisation called Trashkick and the film is  then chillingly posted  onto the net in a form, of ritual humiliation.  I found it the depiction of the crimes distasteful, dark, and violent . The writers seemed to give the crime a contemporary edge with the  killers posting videos…

View original post 559 more words

Image