Monday, 30th October 2017

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Pacy dramas and legal trouble — here’s what to read this week

Some fast paced fiction and semi-autobiographical novels to get you through the week

By Shrestha Saha & Emily Ahern
  • Published 4.07.19, 1:48 AM
  • Updated 4.07.19, 1:48 AM
  • 3 mins read
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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters; Harper Collins; Rs 499 (Harper Collins)

Just like all family adventures, The Unlikely Adventures of The Shergill Sisters begin with secrets — a series of secrets that the audience will not be privy to till they reach the moment in the book when they least expect it. From the author of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal, comes the next offering which is equal parts juicy and funny. Three sisters — Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirin — are compelled to come together for a foreign trip to India on their mother’s last request on her death bed. Carefully curated by the now-late mother, the itinerary is straight out of a horror movie for three sisters who don’t particularly have much in common. Perhaps the only thing that ties the sisters together is them being at the brink of some form of a personal disaster. While Rajni’s life is turned upside down as her only son Anil reveals a life-changing event that he had been keeping a secret, Jezmeen is “lying low” for having become an Internet sensation for the wrong reasons and always-perfect Shirin’s business tycoon husband might gift her the largest diamond on the shelf but all is not fine in her household. A light, fast-paced read that gains momentum as you proceed, this novel is drama with a conscience. 

An American Marriage; Oneworld; Rs 399
An American Marriage; Oneworld; Rs 399 (Oneworld)

Who doesn’t enjoy a good emotional tug-of-war? We know we do and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones had us at the plotline itself. Husband and wife Roy and Celestial are happily married, when suddenly Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to 12 years in prison. That is not where the passionately romantic couple lose their touch but it is after his sentence is revoked and Roy returns to his normal, married life that things begin to feel unreal. The buildup to the night of trouble is beautifully recorded from the memories of the two protagonists, which give us an insight into their backgrounds and their character arcs.

The best way to describe the language and tone of the book would be ‘sombre meets ghetto’. Emotions run raw for this couple trying to leave behind a past and move towards their American Dream. The author beautifully portrays the wrong conviction and later suffering of an African-American couple. Human emotions are dealt with beautifully, highlighting otherwise ignored nuances. Oddly reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird solely for its premise, this shortlisted book for the Women’s Prize for Fiction should definitely not be given a miss.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt; Bloomsbury; Rs 1,169
Beyond Reasonable Doubt; Bloomsbury; Rs 1,169 (Bloomsbury)

Rook, a disheveled and impudent QC Barrister, finds himself haunted by the ghost of his humble past, taking the shape of a fellow former troublemaker from Cotgrave, Billy Barber. Contemptible and terrifying in youth, Rook quickly learns Billy has spiraled from a neighbourhood bully and football hooligan into an ‘ultra-violent embodiment of irrationality’, and is an alleged killer. Framed by the shockingly graphic murder of an unnamed Middle Eastern ‘Girl’, Gary Bell explores the morality of the English justice system. He depicts Rook’s internalised stand-off between fear and truth, as he struggles to suppress his Nottinghamshire roots whilst being forced into being Billy’s defendant. Rook, although bad-natured, demands our respect for his unconditional resilience, not to be put off by his disadvantaged beginnings. He creates a whole new identity to fit in, even learning a new accent to evade the prejudices of the law firm.

Bell’s semi-autobiographical novel is scathingly satirical of Eton-orientated hierarchy and soberingly critical of the harsh reality of modern Xenophobia. He comments on racial as well as gender prejudices through Rook’s junior Zara, a lower-class mixed-race woman. She is not only an uncanny mirror image of the murdered ‘Girl’ but also serves to remind Rook of the charms of his home county. Entirely unlike the other robotically corporeal barristers, she provides an anchor of humanity in the novel that begins to thaw Rook’s cold facade and habit of disassociation. Bell’s fearlessly blunt writing style echoes that of Evelyn Waugh in its ‘close-to-the- bone’ comedy yet still allows necessary room for the reader to empathise and resonate with his characters. 

There’s Something About Sweetie; Hodder; Rs 399
There’s Something About Sweetie; Hodder; Rs 399 (Hodder)

Companion novel to the bestseller When Dimple Met Rishi, Indian-American author Sandhya Menon conflates a traditional arranged marriage with a strong gravitation towards modern movements of anti-body shaming and female-empowerment. Ashish Patel has recently been dumped and his mojo is on hiatus. ‘He wasn’t the basketball playing Romeo/GQ model he’d thought himself to be at all; he was a freaking Teletubby.’ Sure of his parents’ failure to find him love and aggravated at his mum’s condescending attitude, he challenges her to set him up. Similarly downtrodden by her mother is Sweetie. A fiercely competitive track star with a sassy singing voice, she’s perfectly satisfied with her life but her mum isn’t. No matter what she does to make Amma happy, she can’t seem to look past one thing… Sweetie is fat. When Amma refuses to endorse Ashish and Sweetie dating because of her weight, it’s not just the scales that have reached a breaking point. Menon’s multiple first-person narratives reveal the vulnerabilities of both the girl and the boy in the minefield of teenage gossip as they enter into an unexpectedly exciting love story far deeper than any of their shallow fantasies.