I think this is a very solid, paisa-vasool sort of book that kept me engaged right though to the end (well, perhaps not the last two or three chapters) and left me mentally satisfied. But the book did not linger, if you know what I mean. I did not find myself obsessing over The Eyes or Reena’s excitement on getting closer to solving her mystery. If anything, I found Reena slightly annoying because I did not sense who she really was other than an aspiring detective and a very perceptive child.
Bigger spoilers follow!
The actual story is quite straightforward but the way D’Silva builds up the tale is superb. She knows that we know in complete detail what is really haunting Shirin about 100 pages in. The author knows that we know Reena will be the one to discover the secret and set in motion a huge chain of events. Yet, unlike with other books, knowing what the remaining 300 odd pages hold does not make you want to put the book down or go “Aha!”. You still want to read the book if only to know how the events unfold. You read the book as much to spend time with Shirin as to confirm that your guess was correct.
D’Silva also does a great job of bringing out an accurate picture of Indian society in general and the state of women in particular. Without indulging in repression porn she paints a sadly accurate picture of the hypocrisy, victim blaming, and wife bartering that’s a way of life here. She brings out the insecurities of a woman valued low in the marriage market and automatically makes you think about how demeaning and shallow the system is. Interestingly, the author doesn’t dwell on the state of women alone. She paints an inclusive picture that shows us how individuals suffer because of the rigid rules we’ve set up for ourselves.
There were a few jarring notes, however, which spoiled the book for me. With the exception of Shirin, I found most of the characters unidimensional. We have the good son and his patient wife who is an excellent mother; the guilt-ridden and supportive fairy tale husband; the old woman suddenly going soft; the sweet nanny; the precocious child. It gets tiring after a while because you want to hear Reena’s mother shout at at least once at at least one of the many idiotic people surrounding her. You wish Vinod would have an affair or two on the side just to bring a bit more complexity to his character but alas, no. Everyone sticks to their dharma.
The biggest issue I have with the book, however, is the ending. The ending is just too neat for so messy a tale. I don’t know if everyone really needed to forgive each other and love each other and accept each other just moments before the old woman died. I don’t think Madhu needed to have a past that mirrored Shirin’s. It was a bit too convenient and Madhu’s character is developed enough that you accept anything she would say to Shirin without needing a back-story to justify it all. I find it hard to believe that an adoptive mother would not be the least bit threatened by or at least wary of the biological mother making a sudden appearance. Isn’t it only human? It’s equally unnecessary for the glamorous auntie to get back together with the uncle. I was not sure whether or not to be happy because I knew them so little and did not care for them at all.
All in all, the book succumbs to the temptation of a happy ending. I’m not sure if happy endings are really possible for some stories. I think this story needed an open ending.
TL;DR: Borrow. Don’t buy (or buy used). Worth a read.