A lodger causes fissures in the relationship between a brother and sister when both find themselves drawn to him in this atmospheric novel.
The scope and setting of Kundalkar’s novel are intentionally intimate and restrained: over the course of this short book, he establishes a comfortable domestic milieu and then introduces the element that will lead to its disruption. Each of the two main characters narrates approximately half of the novel: first, Tanay tells a story of his desire for the boarder who has come to live in his family’s home in Pune, in western India. What follows in the second half is his sister Anuja’s account, told in a diaristic fashion and providing a different perspective on the same events. Tanay addresses his portion of the novel to the unseen boarder, and each half of the novel meticulously establishes the presence of a fundamentally unknowable figure, an agent of change who offers the idealized promise of a different way of life. Throughout the novel, a claustrophobic sense of confinement and obligation battles it out with the prospect of something more freeing. But even that can come with its own flaws, both for those who opt to take it and those who are left behind. There are certain moments where the approach feels heavy-handed: in the English translation, the fact that one minor character, a lawyer, is named “Mr Dixit” borders on the allegorical. It’s one of the few moments in this novel where the mood isn’t understated. The strength of Kundalkar’s work here is in how lived-in it feels—both the setting and the lives of its two protagonists.
This novel neatly establishes an emotionally complex situation and presents its characters with difficult decisions to quiet but devastating effect.