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…

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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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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…

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Nordic Noir : Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Borjlind

 


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 of the acts on  social media. 

We are introduced to one of the central characters, a  police student Olivia  Ronning. Young and ambitious with a connected past to the Nordkoster murder. We learn how (coincidently) her own father had been a policeman working on the now infamous case. As part of her college course, she has to select a case and stumbles across the infamous case of a death on a beach in Nordkester whilst researching in the library. There is the obvious familial connection, drawing  her in and so she  decides to take the case. She eventually tries to track down the detective who worked on the the case at the time and comes across the emotionally hardened Tom Stilton who after a difficult time, is now a down and out on the streets of Sweden. We are later fed tit-bits of information on how whilst working on the case, he suffers breakdown and then his own marriage ends the same way. His wafer lifestyle takes a disturbing turn when a fellow rough sleeper called Vera is brutally beaten and consequently dies from her injuries. It leaves him incensed and he becomes determined to find her killers. .

We are also introduced to another key character; Bertil Magnuson, a businessman whose past catches up with him and we see him embroiled with police`s own murder investigations.With his reputation in  tatters, coupled with a relationship that is fast becoming strained, we see how the backstory dovetails into the Nordkoster murder case investigation.

Unfortunately the story on the whole clunks along and we are given lacquer upon lacquer of details. It seems to indulge us in painting a character portrayal by numbers which might work well on the television screen but simply does not  compel you to turn the page. The wide- eyed modern day Nancy Drew character in the form of Olivia, just felt out  of synch with the seriousness of the crime and lacked any gravitas. Perhaps the writers were going for the “unlikely hero” but for me she simply failed to make a  convincing protagonist. There is  an interesting inter- play between Olivia and Tom as they muddle their way through the case as she tries to gleans information from the dysfunctional Stilton. 

Frankly the writers seemed to be afraid of offending sensibilities and should have opted for the dysfunctional Stillton  and seemingly “anti-hero as the main vehicle for the story. Occasionally we are given glimpses into his troubled past, the estranged relationship with his ex wife,who is now married. Frankly for me it was a wasted opportunity since  Stilton would have made a much more interesting protagonist within the novel.. A shadow of a man forced to take on a case , handicapped by his own less then healthy state of mind at odds with solving an old case and at odds with himself. Yes Olivia does also a lot of question asking and there is the charming obsequiousness  but nevertheless the story seemed to be pallid at times and never really picks up the pace till near the end.

Unfortunately towards the end there was a gnawing sense that the writers were trying to shoe-horn the less then original ending with some very convenient story threads. The story really needed to be honed down and made into a much more tightly muscular novel .Where was the editor ? The novel left me feeling less than rapt over the story, which  had the  a dream team behind the Swedish detective series Wallander  writing the novel, not forgetting some interesting characters. Springtide was undoubtedly well conceived but  poorly executed. 

Springtide Published by Hesperus Nova and translated by Rod Bradbury

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