A first novel by a Sri Lankan-born, Indian-educated writer now living in Scotland begins with much promise, but loses steam as obvious, plot-driven events rush an abrupt resolution. The story opens at a fashionable Calcutta lakeside rowing club where Putul sits drinking; he's been in Scotland for three years working on his doctorate and thinks he's entitled to some leisure before joining his uncle's business. It's at the club that he runs into the second protagonist, Meena, a distant cousin and young poet who is also just back from Scotland. The third is Choto, the only son of Meena's family servant, who would rather drink with his buddies than take the jobs his mother finds for him. Finally, there's John, a young Scottish friend of Putul's who comes to India to find his family's roots. All four are impressively delineated, the settings vivid, and the storyline—until it speeds up to reach the finish—current and credible. Choto, hoping to please his mother, starts driving a decrepit cab. Meanwhile, Meena, caught up in her family's attempts to find a wife for her brother Dada, falls in love with Ranjan, whose sister might marry Dada. Thus far, the leisurely narrative seems to be setting readers up for a long, satisfying tale. The pace changes, though, when John gets into the cab driven by Choto, who has recently given a ride to a group of political agitators. Both men are killed when the car goes off the road and explodes; rumors abound that the accident was caused by a faulty part manufactured by a company with political connections. There are no happy endings for Meena and Putul either: the marriage of Meena's brother to another woman ends her relationship with Ranjan, and Putul, shocked by John's death, decides to leave India. All of these developments appear forced, a means to quickly finishing off a story whose characters deserve greater care and exposition. One of those rare novels where more would be better than less.
Read full book review >