Lately, I have not been able to read as much as I was reading earlier this year. Among the two books I read in last four weeks, this one is something that I’d read again. I have been following Tanuj Solanki’s stories online at many places and going by the quality of those, I had a high expectation from his debut. And this book delivered.
As a writer, or better say as an aspiring writer ‘who knows he can’t write but still writes’ this book has resonated with me on many levels. So after reading it the first time, I went on to read it the second time.
This is a book about the making of a writer, his struggle to express what he feels, his attempts to come to terms with love and literature.
The book starts with a short story (a brilliant one at that) by another budding writer sent to the protagonist of the novel for beta-reading. The protagonist is introduced in his intermediate stage of being in a relation and going to PATTAYA (the place where most of the events happen) in this short story. In the book it is said somewhere that the beginning of a work should not be The Beginning or The End, but something that says nothing yet says a lot. This story acts as a perfect introduction to the novel. It is kind of stylish. I have not seen such introduction of characters. You may read ‘The Other Room’ online. I think it was published independently as a story.
Next, the book goes back to the love life of the protagonist. It is told in flashbacks. And it is done marvelously. The author never tries to draw an elaborate picture, but rather provides small details in fragments. This is how a person remembers his past; in fragments. His lover is from France. He tries to learn French so that the barrier of language can’t be there between them anymore. And in trying to learn it, we see the writer in him is slowly developing. The parallel description of past and artistic development is done so fluently that I wonder at the apparent lucidity of the book.
But this is a very complex book, written word by word, carefully.
After this comes part 2 of the book, titled as ‘The Bachelor’. This is my favourite part. This has small segments that step by step show the post-breakup emotional blockage and the Bachelor’s tryst to create literature. His attempt to find a way by which he can transform his pain into literature. He finally writes something near the end, a thought, a bitter truth. A realization. And he cries after writing that down. I’ll quote those lines:
“Interred deep within the labyrinth of my inner life is a masterpiece, though I shall require a talent as good as an oil rig to make it gush forth, and even then my broken imagination may prove to be that faulty little part, that worn-out-safety-valve, that allows everything to spill and burn, and then all we would have would be the silent ashes of my masterpiece, though that shouldn’t bother me much, for floating ashes are what all masterpieces end up as.”
At the end, the Bachelor writer says, “I’m such a compulsive archivist of myself.” I think it is said to show the pride and contentment of a young writer who realizes something important and ready to go forth writing, no matter how difficult it is.
The pivotal part of this novel is the 3rd chapter, Neon Noon. The protagonist goes to Pattaya, mainly in search of sex. By then, he has an idea of a novel where the protagonist would be a half-Indian half-French, his son, and a great poet. He will be caught up in finding his true identity, where he belongs, and will therefore shuttle from one continent to another. The son can be interpreted in many ways. One of them is that the son is actually the fruit of the protagonist’s artistic imagination, a work that would provide him all the answers he has been searching. The part about meeting Orhan in Pattaya confirms this. When he says, “In this city of pleasure, pain has suffered genocide”, it has a deep impact on the writer/protagonist. It reminded him that, just searching for sex or solace or pleasure would not provide him what he wants. It is the girl Noon who shows him that even after a heart-break one has the capability to love again. Note that the emphasis is on capability. This is an important point and builds the culmination point of the novel. Meeting Noon, and then realizing he has the ability to fall in love with her, and after falling for her, being able to come to terms with yet another heartbreak make him realise the difference between being in love and being able to love. The book ends with him tearing the photo of his ex-girlfriend and wanting Noon to see that. This shows that he has finally moved on, after accepting his version of life, literature and love.
Solanki’s style is new, but not showy. It has a certain air of confidence and you’d never feel the story is written by a debutante. I look forward to his future work with an ardent interest.
I would recommend this book for readers with an affinity to subtle and intelligent literature.
P.S. I have bought the hardcover version of the book and this is an unbiased review.