The Sanguinarian

The Sanguinarian

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review- Double or Quits-Shilpa Gupta

Blurb: Racy, realistic and fast paced, Double or Quits traces Jyotsna Singh’s story against the backdrop of the treacherous stock markets. Losing her father at the age of 12 and brought up under frugal circumstances, Jyotsna grows up too soon. Nervy and edgy by nature, she morphs into a confident and charming young woman with a successful career in Investment Banking. Enter Aryan Sahani, rising corporate star and billionaire who wraps Jyotsna in his charms, but has plans of his own. Driven by her loyalty to the firm, a desire to break out of her lower middle class moorings and misplaced love, Jyotsna overreaches. She is soon faced with the dark side of the stock markets – a world where ambition, greed and fear rule and reputations are lost a lot faster than they are built. Will Jyotsna be able to resurrect her life? Will she find the true love she has been craving? Double or Quits is a tale of love, betrayal and courage. It is a tale about falling down, but not staying down. 

There are some books which WOW you from the moment you read the first few pages to when you have read the last page and closed the book. There are some books you enjoy reading, and then forget about within days. There are some books that disappoint you within the first few pages and you're like, I'm closing it and relegating it to the trash right now. 

Double or Quits falls on the better side of the spectrum. 

I wanted to read this book. Despite a lot of things which went wrong in the execution, I wanted to read the book and was eager to finish it. And I did. 
This is one of those books which gets some things right and some wrong. 

To begin with, Double or Quits is a story with great potential but faulty execution. 

The things this novel, set in the cut-throat corporate world, gets right: 
1. I liked Jyotsna a lot. She's my kinda gal- smart, strong, independent, tough and a go-getter. She's secure enough in her own worth as a person and doesn't need a man to validate her; but at the same time she knows how to appreciate genuine admiration when it comes her way. I also liked that she's liberated and puts her career first; and isn't a pushover whom society and family can manipulate into submission. 
2. I liked Jyo's broadminded mother and Grandma. Amazing women- what wouldn't one give to have such supportive, understanding and liberal parent and grandparent! 
3. I like the profusion of good food in this book. 
4. I loved Nitin's character too. He's my kinda male feminist. The way he stands with Jyo through the most difficult phases of her life is amazing. And of course, he's well rounded as a person- smart, driven, intelligent, successful and good looking.
5. I liked how Jyo, despite being in a situation where she had to bear punishment for mistakes she didn't make, makes the most of it, works her way through and comes through with flying colors. This is good characterization- putting your character through the meat grinder, testing their resilience and then making them rise from the ashes like a phoenix. 
6. The corporate world has been explained very well. I'm a scientist by profession, and have little or no idea of corporate world or terms, but Shilpa, having more than a decade's experience in Investment Banking herself, breaks down the world of major corporations for us, nicely depicting the high stakes, the politics and backstabbing and the adrenaline rush. It made it easier to understand the story. 
7. The plot is original and the story line is new and refreshing. No romantic nonsense. The suspense has been maintained well throughout. 
8. Aryan's character, as well as those of the other supporting characters, have been etched well.
9. I liked Sanchita and Richa's characters- supportive girlfriends women like Jyo need for much needed encouragement and support- and the equation of trust, love and bonhomie the three women share.

Now let me come to what this novel gets wrong: 

1. More telling and very less showing. This makes it difficult to visualize the scenes properly, or immerse myself completely in the story. There is narration instead of proper scenes. I mean I know that  the protagonists are having dinner or making love or engaged in a high-power corporate meeting, but there is no context, no emotional intelligence in the scene. The author, instead of zooming in on the scenes to help us connect with the story, has rather skimmed through, jumping from one scene to another within the same chapter and giving us only a glimpse. I wanted a lot of scenes.
2. The language fails to move me. Some stray lines and phrases stand out in brilliance, but otherwise the prose is clunky and refuses to flow. It's not that the language is pedestrian, or I was expecting a very high level of English. But it could still have been better- more taut and crisp. There are no grammatical mistakes as such, but still, something was missing here. 
3. The start could have been better. When I start reading something I want to see something major happening, something which already makes me apprehensive about what will happen next. That was missing here. For example, the build up could have been in a way that the protagonist has a presentation whose outcome is important for her, and she's apprehensive about how it will go. 
4. Jyotsna's character does things very anachronistic to her personality, at times. Why does she go out on a  date with Aryan the same evening he humiliates her in front of her colleagues? Why does she trust him so blindly with regard to business when she only has an affair with him? And Aryan keeps repeatedly insulting her and she still keeps going out with him. He continues to be evasive and secretive and she blindly continues to trust him. She goes on a vacation to Malaysia with him when they've barely started dating, and even sleeps with him without first knowing him well. All these are at sharp odds with her high self-esteem, cautious nature and low threshold for sexist crap. Why would she tolerate a sexist who constantly subjects her to gaslighting? I mean we all do stuff which is out of character, but this is just not done. 
5. Does anyone say 'Gosh' much these days? 
6. At places the author goes too overboard with corporate jargon. Now I understand that being a corporate woman herself, she has the instinct to talk in terms of Investment Banking and such. But that is where authors who create stories set in the world they themselves inhabit should be careful- to use enough technical terms to paint a credible picture of the character's profession, but not go overboard so non-corporate people find it boring. 

All in all, I praise Double and Quits for its maturity, originality of content, and that it doesn't waste time with over-the-top romantic drama. This book has a lot of important things to say, and at places it does that very well. At other places, though, it could have been written better. The author can do so much better- she shows promise and potential.

But I would still like to applaud this novel for making a difference, and for encapsulating the messages of women's emancipation that it does. 

And I wish Shilpa all the best for her next book.
Double or Quits

Give this book a try, I'd say. You can buy a copy here: 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review- Birds of Prey- Archana Sarat

Blurb: You wake up, parched and famished, at the bottom of a deep well—dark and dingy with the foul smell of excreta and rotting scars and no seeming way to escape—what do you do?
This is the predicament that ex-ACP Anton Pinto faces when he reluctantly joins the investigation into the mysterious disappearances of men from affluent families of Mumbai. There is an inexplicable pattern behind the abductions and all suspicions point towards an old, physically-challenged, mysterious lady. Soon, Anton discovers that the seemingly unrelated men have one common link—the most popular and expensive international school in Mumbai.
Following clues that span from schools and old-age homes to illegal dingy hospitals, Anton is led through a labyrinth of incest, abuse, torture and suffering, spanning decades. 
What secret does the school hide behind its gates? What was the undisclosed crime that is thirsty for justice? Will Anton be able to save the men? Will justice be served? 

First of all, let me congratulate Archana on getting her book out. I know Archana for nearly four years now and I can personally vouch for her competence and sophistication as a writer. I had the privilege of getting a signed copy from her in return for an honest review. 

Birds of Prey identifies as a crime thriller, and it lives up to its stated genre by employing all the tropes necessary for a police procedural- there's an ex-ACP, a serial killer, a criminal profiler, other cops, an officious and incompetent police force, an apathetic boss and colleagues etc. 

I finished this book in 2 sittings. First of all the book manages to hold the reader's attention and maintain the suspense, second of all it's written in simple language ( not pedestrian. Simple. There's a difference between the two!) 

Let me enumerate the points on which the book scores first: 

1. The suspense has been created and maintained very well. Readers like me, who are a sucker for crime novels, appreciate the feeling of nail-biting tension and apprehension...that feeling of what will happen next? 
2. The author portrays both the city Mumbai, where the book is set, and the life of a Tamil family in Mumbai, very well. 
3. The characters are well fleshed out- especially Anton and his wife Sheeba. The number of characters is less in the book so it's easy to keep up with who is whom. Every supporting character- from the stubborn boss to the quack who performs illegal abortions and his assistant, has been etched well.
4. The language is simple without being pedestrian. Anyone with a basic knowledge of English can understand this well. The author doesn't waver from the tenor of her language quality throughout, and that is appreciable. The prose is eloquent without being grandiose, and suits the potboiler character of the story well. So full marks to the author for that. 
5. The author has written the novel from both the protagonist and antagonist's POV. Again, this is appreciable. Crime novels usually stick to the trope of the villain being an out-and-out bad guy who doesn't deserve a back story or an empathetic hearing. But here, the antagonist has been portrayed amazingly well, without being glamorized. One wants the hero to win while also feeling for the bad guy who might not be so bad after all, just misguided and lonely; but their actions deserve no justification. 
6. The conflict has been created well. Anton and Sheeba's marital troubles, his going to help his ex-employer, the Mumbai police, despite their apathy towards him when he needed their support the most; his dilemma of going back to the job he loves or staying back with his family in Goa; Sheeba's (justified) objection to his returning to work for the police...this is all very relatable stuff. This happens with us lay folks all the time. And again, we feel for the characters. 
7. The plot is original and intriguing, and the story is something unique. 
8. The prologue in itself is gripping and taut. Again a good point for which author gets full marks. 
9. The issue of child abuse has been tackled well in this book.

Now for the points I feel should have been addressed in the book: 

1. Grammatical mistakes: At times they take away from the otherwise well-written prose. And also mar the high quality of language and prose. This is not the author's, but the editor's fault. Why didn't they iron out the inconsistencies? The author has worked hard on her craft and it shows. It's the editor's job to iron out the inconsistencies and make the writing error free. Small typos are no problem, but in a book of this caliber it is an issue.
2. The portrayal of the criminal profiler: Now I'm not saying that crime authors have to be experts in criminology. But the profiler could have used much more professional language and terminology. That matters in a crime novel, specially if it's written with a psychological POV. Even when the cops discuss about the murders being serial crimes, their analysis falls short of professional. Yes, in India, the concept of criminology or behavioral psychology hasn't taken root yet. Not among cops, especially. But here is where the author could have made a difference by doing some in-depth research on criminology and making the cops and profilers talk like professional experts. 
3. At places, there are odd turns of phrases. This is again the editor''s prerogative to notice and correct. At one place there is confusion between the names of victims. Again the editor's fault. 

All in all, Birds of Prey is a well-written, nicely plotted crime thriller. It will make you think about child abuse in India, about the effect it has on human beings, about how societal apathy adds to the entire vicious cycle. 
Go read this book if you need a breather from the Bhagats, Duttas and Singhs of literature in India. 

Birds of Prey