Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: AFTERTASTE

This appeared in India Today this week. I cannot link to it, which is sad, coz it has a bright, chirpy graphic that rather nicely offsets the whips and chains of the text. But anyway, here's the review(the title in print is "MUMMY & MONEY"):

HEARTBURN
Dear Namita,
Two years ago, when your first novel "The Music Room" won the Vodafone Crossword Popular Book Award, I enjoyed meeting you at the ceremony in Bombay and applauded warmly when you won. How sad then, that I cannot be enthusiastic about Aftertaste.

What compelled you to write this mithai-house saga? How does anyone set out on a journey of 292 pages, knowing that it's going to focus wholly on dreary, unattractive people and the grubby monotony of their lives? Writing a novel is such a very conscious effort, after all. You must have had some very specific reason for wanting to do it. Yet even the hospital doorman in the prologue can see that this family of four adult siblings doesn't want their parent to walk out alive! It's like you're daring us to continue reading after having revealed the essential features of the story right there on page four.

But okay, let's suppose we dismiss the opinions of a minor character and forge ahead. We meet the family patriarch, his friends, his money-lender. We meet the two sons Rajan Papa and Sunny, and the two daughters Suman and Saroj, in their youth. We watch their mother grow into the matriarch known universally as Mummyji. The siblings grow up, get married and have children, all in an atmosphere of unsmiling tension. By book's end we still have no idea why you've introduced us to characters so annoying that they can't even masturbate in peace without an audience of readers looking on.

I can only assume that your real purpose was to write a stirring (haha, yes, pun intended) drama centred around mitthai. And yes, there are a couple scenes in which someone or other succumbs to the charms of a milky sweet: "The minute the khoya barfi entered his mouth, Kartar shrank from master to slave. He was seized by a strange sensation that he couldn't quite understand. His tastebuds unlocked an ancient room where he was an infant sucking on his mother's breast." But two pages later, you follow up with: "Rajan Papa slipped into a satiated sleep … He woke up to the squishy sticky feeling of rasgolla syrup streaming down his legs." I'm sorry, but that has not only ruined rasgollas for me, but inspired unnatural questions about advanced diabetics and whether or not their secretions might indeed be sugary. Bleah.
The other possibility is that you had planned to write a laugh-riot about sweating in the sweet-shop, but then your journalist's instincts got in the way. Before you knew it, your characters had curdled into soap-opera stereotypes and your research into the sweetmeat industry produced the kind of ho-hum material best suited to a Sunday Magazine article rather than a feature-length novel. Your prose turned from glib to glum and your plot sank into that armpit of tedium known as Hindu Undivided Family Failure. There's really only one solution to plots that go down this path: disk-erase and start afresh.

I know, I know, all this sounds like I'm going at your book with a blow-torch, right? Well think again. Whenever I've written what I believed was a devastating review in the past, the subject of my attack has gone on to win prizes and break bestseller records for that year. So take heart! This is really only my effort to boost your sales and enrich the lives of all those readers who will swarm to read your book, now that they know it's about their favourite fixations: money, mithai and Mummyji. See you at next year's book awards! Sincerely and with no hard feelings, MP

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

extremely bad book. the pace is lackluster and the characters poorly etched. couldn't wait to finish it.
can't believe that i wasted 400 bucks on it :(

marginalien said...

Phew. Most often I have to contend with furious authors informing me of my extreme insensitivity to good literature!!

marginalien said...

... to prove my point, read the comment that accompanies the online version of this review (which I was eventually able to source): http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/101174/Leisure/books-mummy-and-money.html

Aiki said...

Spot on. The books is truly dreadful -- overblown metaphors, and a narcissistic fascination with the author's language. Which isn't accurate at all, and throws up some howlers: bargain like a banshee? Banshee's don't bargain. They wail.

Anonymous said...

Expected some delicious fare, but it left a very bad After Taste. Waste of time, energy & money.

Savita said...

Terribly written. Tortured sentences, bizarre similes, and like you say, grim uninteresting characters.

marginalien said...

... so the question is, why do books like this get such an enthusiastic send-off? Why does an intelligent publisher feel confident enough to plan lavish launch events?

I don't suppose there will ever be honest or coherent answers to questions like these.

Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o:

Anonymous said...

awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. jasmin holzbauer