Fever Dream By Samanta Schweblin

FEVERI have been trying to explain / review / recommend Fever Dream for weeks now and I often find myself stuck between the compulsive need to push it onto readers just so I can have someone who would swap theories with me (about the ending, the beginning, THE End?) and the impossibility of a coherent description that wouldn’t spoil your fun. It’s hard to believe I’m writing this about a novelette of barely 160 pages, but Samanta Schweblin does not waste a single word in building one of the most interesting stories I’ve read in a while.

Fever Dream reads like a two-hander for an indie theatre. It’s easy to imagine Amanda, the dying woman trapped inside her memories, and David, the obsessive young man kneeling by her hospital bed narrating the story on a spare, ominously-lit stage. That’s all there is on the page: a relentless Q&A in which David pushes Amanda to analyze the mental film reel of a particular afternoon she had spent with David’s mother. They’re trying to get as close as possible to a Patient Zero moment—the exact instant in which “the worms” were unleashed.

It’s very important, it’s very important for us all.

 

fever2
The novel has been shortlisted for International Manbookers Prize 2017

 

We do not know what the worms are, we just sense that they’re killing Amanda and might be killing them / us all. The film reel cranks back to that afternoon. David’s mother Carla breaks down in front of Amanda, confessing that she’s terrified of her own son. David has been sick for six years, ever since he drifted into a poisoned stream running through the tranquil Argentine countryside. Carla has miscalculated the rescue distance (the novel’s title in the original is Distancia de rescate), an almost maniacal approximation of how far away a mother can be from her children before it’s too late to save them. Amanda’s inherited this obsession from her own mother, but—as she makes it clear from the very beginning—she’s failed at keeping her beloved daughter Nina safe, just like Carla has failed David. Worse even.

“No, that’s not the story, it has nothing to do with the exact moment. Don’t get distracted […] None of this is important.”

I can hear David creep-screeching into my ear and interrupting the flashback as I type this. OK, OK, fine! (It is though. All of it is important—maternal love and obsession, collective guilt and individual responsibility… but yes, we don’t have time, I get it.) From Amanda’s stuttering memories we piece together David’s story. Following his toxic river incident, a desperate Carla rushes David to a local psychic. The old woman warns that the boy’s survival comes at a steep price: David’s soul will be separated from his body and migrated to another host. Carla accepts the bargain. Six years later, the family pets are dead and David no longer calls her Mother. There is nothing but darkness behind his eyes.

I could go on about what happens when David met Nina, except—we don’t really know. That’s *drumroll* not important. The tension grows as the stain of toxicity spreads and spreads and we eventually see where the poison originates. The revelation of the rescue distance between Amanda and Nina in the exact moment in which the hinted at ecological disaster unfolds and Nina becomes infected with “the worms” is a punch to the stomach.

If you read any of this and thought: oh, nice, South American magical realism… I’m sorry, we can never be friends. Personal bias against the genre aside, Fever Dream is not a book you can easily pigeonhole. Like South America itself, it is far removed from the monolithic and antiquated notions still floating about literature translated from the continent. If I were to call it anything other than excellent, I would think of it as a thoroughly modern piece of eco-gothic-thriller-meditation on our tragic inability to protect our loved ones as we poison the world around us. (And that’s only scratching the surface tension. There is an entire layer of narrative I’m probably not qualified to pick up on as I’m not up to speed with the environmental impact of intensive farming in Argentina.)

Call it whatever you want, but read it and then come tell me all about your theories and help me figure out what was up with that nightmarish bird.

Published By One World. 160 pages. Translated by Megan Mcdowell.

Sofia Fara International Fiction blogger and member of Books Without Borders Bookclub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fever Dream By Samanta Schweblin

The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

roopaGloBooks  finds out whether The Good Children  really was a good read. 

I was fascinated by how they are created,” she said during a recent event for lucky readers at the London based Foreign Fiction Bookclub…. and this fascination underpins her sixth novel The Good Children.

But rather than focus this fascination on a modern-day Hitler or a Joseph Fritzl, Farooki looks for the evil in everyday life, peeling the facade that covers a supposedly happy society family in the midst of the heat of Lahore in post-partition Pakistan to reveal the ugly interior.

While riots rage around them and others wilt under the pressures of a demanding and repressive society, the Saddeq household comprising of a couple, four children and assorted servants, smile through this turbulent period in the history of the Indian subcontinent, albeit with gritted teeth.

Later, the eldest of the four children , Sulaman Saddeq, or Sully, is to become an expert on how evil spread through Nazi Germany and otherwise “normal” people ended up as accomplices to the slaughter of the country’s Jewish population.

roopan.jpg
Roopa Farooki  was the Foreign  Fiction Bookclub`s Guest Author

But the real study begins much earlier in his life and that of his siblings.

The Good Children is told through the eyes of the two sons and two daughters of the household. But the central figure, the anti-protagonist, is their sociopath mother, who puts Grimm’s stepmother into the shade with the brutal manner in which she brings up her children and forces them into stereotypes of perfect children – the two boys are designed to be doctors, the two girls to be wives. Thus she becomes of a metaphor for that most callous of monsters – a repressive society.

The story charts the attempt of  each these four children to escape the clutches of the fate she has bestowed on them. But as Sully, the eldest son, finds out, physical distance alone does not banish her ghost.

The story begins with the four children in their teens. Mrs Saddeq is intent on projecting an image of the perfect family. So she trills over her husband’s every word and whips her sons and daughters into shape, forcing them into the stereotypes of perfect children: her sons are sent away to become doctors, her daughter to become good wives.

Perhaps the most compelling portion of the novel is a brief and thrilling few chapters where the eldest daughter Mae, denied her dream of being a doctor like the boys, rebels by playing the role set down for so well that she briefly threatens to take unseat her mother’s place at the head of the household. Eventually, the coup fails and there’s no physical escape for Mae, who stays behind as all three of the others make good their escape, Sully to the U.S. and Jakie to the U.K. where he is followed eventually by Lana.

The rest of the book comprises their adventures in these countries and how each of them come to terms with their upbringing, and it becomes much more about the clash of an old way of living and a new.

Jakie is possibly the most successful, his relationship with Irishman Frank, while far from perfect, allowing him to express his compassionate side and cure his wounds with love, enchantingly portrayed by Farooki.

An improbable adoption of an abused Indian maid and her son by this homosexual couple – surely a hard arrangement to square with society in the 1980s? – and his charitable work in Pakistan further helps him heal.

For the women, the road is a much harder one. Both are trapped by marriages, and yet they eventually do escape in their own ways, the perfidy of their husband’s serving as reasons to leave. Lana eventually follows Jackie to London and establishes a life there.

Even though the subject is a tough one, the book is throughout as compelling as any airport page-turner, and almost worth reading for Farooki’s gorgeous imagery alone. She uses violent images to describe the most domestic of tasks, constantly jarring the reader out of their complacency.

Amma beat us ferociously, as though it was exercise, and something that she needed to stretch and limber up for in advance. Like a local lawman in the villages, charged with administering a hundred lashes to a young rape victim for her adultery.”

For a book that evocatively describes the hardships and injustice women face in society, both in Pakistan and beyond, it’s a pity that she doesn’t spend more time on It is unfortunate, then, that she appears to lose interest in the female half of her set of protagonists, spending a majority of time describing the lives of Sully and Jackie and the various people they meet, Irishman being the most compelling of the side characters.

Lana, and particularly Mae, don’t get this sort of special treatment even though they are arguably the more interesting characters whilst growing up.

It’s easy to get tired of Sully’s morbid and flawed introspection, and the reader has to exercise a large slice of suspension of disbelief when reading about Jakie’s life.The overall impression is of a muscular giant of a book in the making that runs out of steam halfway through the journey.

Farooki’s decision not to delve into arguably the books most interesting character – the mother – except in the most cursory manner, is another point for debate. Given the understanding she shows to almost all the other characters, surely a few chapters exploring her backstop wouldn’t go amiss?

But perhaps the book is the more effective for it. Once dissected, the monster becomes pitiable rather than fascinating. And that fascination is what gives The Good Children its tremendous energy.

The Good Children  (416 pages ) Published by Tinder Press

2016-06-12 09.47.42Abhinav Ramnarayan is a Journalist and Foreign Fiction Blogger 

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The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

THE GOOD WIFE AN ASIA HOUSE EVENT- THE GLOBOOKS REVIEW

The Good Wife Event held recently at Asia House brought together some notable figures  to wax lyrical on the changing roles of women in society. With changing societal dynamics taking place across the region, as people marry later, stay single longer or do not marry at all, just how do women fair in these more liberal times.  Ramita Naval  author of City of Lies  and Eif Shafak of Honour and the Forty Rules of Love bang the world to rights on what is a expansive subject , covering cultural political landscapes.

Just how are womens roles changing? Ramita Naval claims that young people are experimenting, partly against oppression, partly through taking control of their own bodies. Women are getting married later and divorce rates have tripled.

ramita
Author Ramita Naval

 

Interestingly enough there are no generational gaps preventing their parents supporting their children`s choice to divorce. Yet she goes onto reveal that there is now a trend for cohabiting couples or so called “white marriages”. Infact according to an article in LA Times (Feb 2016) Nita Ansari an expert on womens rights, mentions that “many Iranians cohabit before marriage. It’s economical. It’s a way to date and live together and not be bound by the heavy weight of marriage in a country that handicaps its youth at every turn.” ramita

Is education  the answer? Yet Ramita says that more women are going to university but it is not translating into careers for women and  that is the litmus test for any modern independent woman.

According to author Elif Shafak,Turkey is a country full of contradictions .”During the republican era, for the modernists, it was incredibly important to achieve genuine equality. It was the major goal of the new mission state. Women were expected to defeminise themselves. “

According  to Shafak,there are now lots of progressive laws. Yet in local and national politics, women are almost  non- existent, and those who are active, have to defeminise themselves. “In  society you always  have to respect the matriarch,once you are old, you are something completely different but then you are respected. However the matriarch does not help other women and therefore this maintains the status quo. In liberal circles, it is no different, especially in literature. what worrys me is that it is becoming more and more conservative in its fabric.”

elif
Author Elif Shafak

 

Are illiberal , conservative attitudes confined to the older generation?  “It doesn’t mean young women are more progressive. I wish it did. These  women are globally connected but there are women that are doing just the opposite. So we need to analyse how it works. Its a reaction to the West and a reaction to their parents.”    elif

 

 

Literature Programme Manager for Asia House  Jemimah Steinfeld explained just why it was important to hold the event.”Firstly its an important conversation to have. In recent years feminism has really been put on the map as evidenced by many different initiatives.. ”

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Programme Manager Jemimah Steinfeld

 

 

 

“But that does not necessarily mean we are witnessing enough positive change. Its important to continue these conversations in a bid to bring about the needed change.”

 

 “I for one walked away feeling like I knew a lot more about what was going on in India and Iran, whilst Elif Shafak is a very emotional insight into the rollback of women`s rights in Turkey felt like a call for action.”

Full of revelations, the debate shined a  light on the whole subject of womens equality or lack of it.  It provided irrefutable evidence of how far the pursuit of female equality has come but definitely how far it still needs to go. Shafak`s damming conclusion of a regression of women`s rights in Turkey made you ask just how will you halt that regression and just how soon will it happen  and more to the point, could we see it occurring elsewhere in the world?

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THE GOOD WIFE AN ASIA HOUSE EVENT- THE GLOBOOKS REVIEW

More or Less Asians? A debate on Stereotypes in Literature. An Asia House Event: The Review

Top Left to Right. Blogger and writer Anna Chen, Presenter Bidisha and Film maker Daniel York. Bottom Left to Right. Novelist Niven Govinden and Broadcaster Yasmeen Khan waxed lyrical on the night.
Top Left to Right. Blogger and writer Anna Chen, Presenter Bidisha and Filmmaker Daniel York. Bottom Left to Right. Novelist Niven Govinden and Broadcaster Yasmeen Khan waxed lyrical on the night.
Philip Chadha Founder of globooks.net which showcases the best in international fiction.
Philip Chadha Founder of globooks.net which showcases the best in international fiction.

Every once in while we have seminal moments in the arts and at times we return to seemingly well trodden roads and in particular the subject of stereotypes or in this case Asian stereotypes in literature, do they exist?

Are there more or less then before? It was the subject up for energetic debate at the recent event held at Asia House in London.

The debate provided a looking glass on the whole subject of Asian stereotypes in literature and gifted a moment of much needed reflection on the issue as the end of 2014 hurtles towards us.

GloBooks supported the sell-out event , attracting large numbers. Its topic clearly resonated  with the audience.
GloBooks supported the sell-out event , attracting large numbers. Its topic clearly resonated with the audience.
There was the ever clear and present danger of the event possibly rankling a few observers through heated debate and if you were of the persuasion that things were just fine and dandy then you were likely to have your quiet non-plussed persuasion punctured.This was not going to be BBC light entertainment fodder for Saturday night television by any standards. One was almost expecting effigy burning of every publisher who said no, every publisher who said maybe and every publisher who said could be. Forgive me though for a moment of jocularity. I thought it might make for a good diversionary tactic from being overly serious or being hangdog. However the inescapable fact is that even in a multicultural, multi-media liberal leaning 2014 Britain, we still need to debate and interrogate the whole idea of stereotypes in the arts and in particular in literature.Presenter Biddsha asked presenter Yasmin Khan just what stereotypes were expected of her during her professional life.
Presenter Bidisha presided over the proceedings.
Presenter Bidisha presided over the proceedings.
She recalls a production meeting and recounts what one programme commissioner apparently said to her during a meeting. The commissioner apparently told her “Its great that that you bring us stories but don’t feel that you cant bring other stuff, stories about your community..” and right there was the first seemingly outmoded word “community”. The idea of Asians being part of an all-embracing, homogenous community is undoubtedly an urban myth. The impression of Asians being representative of communities has always been around. How are Asians though by the very nature of the fact that we are Asian, somehow representative of all communities? Does that make us qualified to talk on ethnic matters ? possibly; to be somehow flag bearers for all things Asian or even standard- bearers possibly not, since the ethnic make-up of areas up and down the country are affected by a multitude of influences including political, social, cultural; socio-economic or otherwise.

So from a literature standpoint, its not difficult to be riled slightly, even for the more phlegmatic ones amongst us. Author on the panel niven Bidisha underscored the point of how there are certainly very familiar narratives in Asian fiction; the forced arranged marriage being the most popular one et al and possibly making the cosily more common stories more “publishable” then others. Govinden commented “If you are far more singular about your work then you don’t have to work in that way.” You might ask the genesis of stereotypes in literature normally is with the very publishers themselves, leading one to think that there are not enough ethnic minorities within the publishing industry. Niven revealed how the trade publication The Bookseller did a follow-up to a study done a decade ago, highlighting the problem of a lack of ethnic minorities in the publishing industry and guess what? Things have not changed a decade later. Just what are the concrete things that need to be done asked presenter Bidisha. According to Niven “It begins at university and encouraging more people who are about to graduate to join the industry.”

Frankly if that didn’t get your jowls jarring, then there is the slightly noxious combination of literary fiction and seemingly colonial or genre based Asian stereotypes. Whilst it could be vigorously argued that the South Asian fiction panorama is very much alive and kicking with Jhumpa Lahiri`s The Lowlands.lowlands and Neel Mukherjee`s The Lives of OthersNEEL shortlisted for 2013 and 2014 Booker Prize respectively. According to Niven however, there is an inherent risk of writers simply comforming to a set of literary rules or a genre, just to make their book publishable.”The danger is that you don`t nurture the development of writers who work outside the tradition. Its not challenging work. Its an easy sell. If you spend the kind of attention on writing different kinds of work, you have a far more interesting landscape.”

Asia House Literature Festival Organiser Jemimah Steinfield. “More or Less Asian was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable event. Led by Bidisha, the panellists presented a disparate and interesting range of views, raising important issues in terms of identity and creativity in the UK today."
Asia House Literature Festival Organiser Jemimah Steinfield. “More or Less Asian was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable event. Led by Bidisha, the panellists presented a disparate and interesting range of views, raising important issues in terms of identity and creativity in the UK today.”
My fear is that in satisfying the commercial whims of certain publishers who like theatre producers need to get bums on seats,like film makers need to shift cinema tickets; writers might be implicitly expected to produce stories that use cosily familiar stereotypical images that lets face it sell. Historical, political stories with high drama and tension- fuelled communal relations might be exquisitely written and deemed Booker prize worthy, but it might be argued are they really examples of fresh, challenging fiction?

Perhaps that`s a debate for another time. Yet its not all literary doom and gloom. Hope does spring eternal. There are books that are challenging that romanticised, chocolate box image of South Asian writing with redefining work that delivers a big fat Glasgow kiss so the charming expression goes, to all stereotyped or genre based fiction. Deepa Kapoor`s Bad Character was in my mind, a game-changer of a novel with its story turning the image of the young stay-at- home Asian woman on its head and presents an uncompromising image of the under-belly of Delhi.

Deepti  Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character
Deepti Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character
We now need a new generation of authors to rewrite the rules on South Asian literature with exciting and enduring stories that give stereotypes a wide berth.
Marvel-logo-oficial Like a band of literary iconoclasts, ridding the publishing world of trite stereotypes and protecting challenging literature, super heroes to rival even Marvel,s finest, we will hopefully have novels that are a rollicking good read, bring in the greenbacks and challenge hackneyed literary characters in the process. Now wouldn’t that be a marvel ?

All The Days and Nights Published by The Friday Project and Bad Character published Jonathon Cape Random House are both out now.

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More or Less Asians? A debate on Stereotypes in Literature. An Asia House Event: The Review

I AM CHINA BY XIAOLU GUO Book Review

Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel
Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel

I AM CHINA written by Xiaolu Guo is a cautionary story of exiled Chinese musician and former Chinese Punk Jian and his girlfriend Mu. The title comes from Vassily Grossman’s magnum opus, Life and Fate, the epic novel of human survival under totalitarianism and the closing line of his own manifesto .

Iona Kirkpatrick is a 31 year old translator tasked with making sense of the letters given to her by her publishing company. Slowly but surely she perseveringly pieces together a love story across the ages. Layer by layer,she gives us a backdrop to the love affair, which is a politically harsh, angular regime which never-endingly excoriates its citizens.

This a book which takes you on an odyssey, a love story across continents that spans the generations and is written in the first person of the character Iona. Guo presents something of a detective story and invites our curiosity, cleverly hooking the reader in from the beginning to end. The translator seemingly unlocks secrets from the past and decodes the story hidden between lines of language. As the story unfolds before us, we get glimpses of the character`s past and their seemingly disparate lives. Guo has a gift for being allegorical without feeling as a reader you are being clubbed on the head with meanings or sign-posted for themes. There are clearly over-arching themes of cultural displacement, distance, and how we stead-fastly remain wedded to our beliefs to a fault; that they can shape us perhaps even hijack us and prevent us from changing in an ever-changing world. In a letter to Jian, comparing America to China, Mu talks of how America is the land of living and live clichés and points to the stark comparison with China. She writes; Its like ideology, you are told to believe some stuff and you are not supposed not to give it up ! Maybe that’s the difference with China. We struggle like buffalo all our lives and we still don’t become someone.”

Just as Jian is in exile thousands of miles away from his own country, there are parallels with Iona who is also someone who has become a reticent London resident. Iona herself is from the isle of Iona and it could be argued is culturally displaced. Yet as she was growing up, she wanted to escape the confines of her small island upbringing. Describing Iona`s childhood, Guo writes; her childhood was about waiting, wondering and the promise of what lay beyond the sea.”

It`s a complex love story which at times is laconic, brutal, uncompromising and laced with Guo`s ironic humour, that is at times bitter-sweet but never saccharine. There’s a juxtaposition between Mu`s rhythmic life, full of life’s nuances and Jian`s life of physically being trapped at the detention centre and trapped by his own beliefs. We see Iona who is emotionless, grasping for human contact in meaningless sexual one off encounters.

In one part of the book, we have Kublai Jian penning a letter to the Queen during his detention in a Lincolnshire Psychiatric Hospital in the vain hope that he can appeal to what he thinks is the highest law in the land “In China we say that if you can talk to the boss then don’t talk to the boss`s secretary and if you can talk to the boss`s wife then no need to talk to the boss. So dear Queen you are the boss lady, you are the top one! Whilst not actually a prison, it has a semblance of one and the oft-quoted line. “detained at the majesty`s pleasure taking on a
whole new meaning.

There is a literary play-off between the adventurist Mu who leaves behind her native Beijing to go to the States to pursue her dream of being a performance poet, persuaded by her manager that she should off-load her name and adopt the hip name of Sabotage Sisters. She becomes part of the touring group Beijing Maniac. There’s almost an ironic wink to the American Dream and a literary homage to the road movie as they tour from state to state. There is a boldness, a courage, and this contrasts to Iona`s life of existing on “a loop” living. Yet Mu feels a strange disconnect with her new life. She writes “Is that me? I feel that I am wearing a disguise – underneath I am a hundred percent Chinese daughter of the countryside.. its as if Im pretending to be someone else.”

Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China
Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China

Guo however simply falls into the trap of polarising the free and righteous West with the politically harsh China rather then presenting a 21st century view with its grey areas and political nuances. We hear that the publisher has to pull Iona from the translation task as he cannot risk possible ramifications if he goes ahead and publishes the book following a sinister call from the Minister of State Security that he should not publish anything in relation to Kublai Jian who is the son of a high ranking Chinese politician, fearful of any media publicity. Iona`s character felt listless and it felt there wasn’t enough substance to lift her off the page. However in an ending befitting of a novel that is epic in its story telling and fluid in its prose, I AM CHINA will certainly be on your must-read list for this year and beyond.
I AM CHINA published by Chatto and Windus.

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I AM CHINA BY XIAOLU GUO Book Review

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

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Meatspace: The Novel by Nikesh Shukla

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

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