Having read the book, though, I wonder what Picador was thinking. Not that this book is especially bad, it's just not especially good. There's lots of local colour and some potentially interesting characters, but no real plot, nothing to grab you and make you involve yourself in their lives. When an interesting subplot does develop, it generally fizzles out.
The main storyline features Mukundan Nair, who retires to his northern Kerala village Kaikurussi after years of government service. His father, Achuthan Nair, has by far the most powerful personality in the book -- at 90, he still inspires dread in his son and the other people in the village. Combine this fear with the guilt that Mukundan feels about having deserted his mother, and you see why Mukundan was not keen to return home.
So far so good. In comes One-Screw-Loose Bhasi, an eccentric painter who is a healer in disguise, and who heals Mukundan's soul by means that are not made clear in the book (he comes over for a drink and chat every day? Pours out his philosophy of life?) After this point the story reads as though the author forced the characters into particular actions for the sake of her story -- their actions are not very consistent with the personalities she drew. There are doses of philosophy such as the following:
Do you remember what it was like to be 23? The glorious certainty of that age when everything is bathed in the yellow light of hope and nothing is impossible. When the future stretches ahead, unbounded by the peripheries of time and mortality. When youth, as if it were the tungsten filament in a light bulb, draws on the power of your conviction that life is what you make of it.
I can only take so much profundity, especially when it's not very profound.
Women play no particular part in the book. There are female characters, but they are merely literary pawns who appear and disappear at the author's convenience. This does not necessarily doom the book; I say this as a caveat for those who expect a woman-oriented book from a woman author.
The quotidian features of Kerala village life are nicely woven into the book -- the power cuts, the central role of the post office and its functionaries, the chai shop. This, however, is not enough for a full-length novel.
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