It’s not always an easy task, writing book reviews.
Someone has dreamed and sat down and written.
A publisher has accepted the finished manuscript and published the book (and what a lovely looking book this is. Great cover.)
And so I hesitate to be churlish.
But “Virgin Gingelly”, Mr. Kumar’s second book, was a baffling and unsatisfactory read. I truly am loathe to sound too harsh, but between unnecessary over-use of the F word and unexplained Tamil vocabulary (at least I imagine it was Tamil) I was often adrift.
The cover told me, and I quote, “a bunch of misfits perform a strange kutcheri” and then goes on to list those misfits. If I hadn’t read the cover, much of the time I would have understood even less than I did.
And, by the way, shouldn’t it be ” a bunch of misfits performs”…
To put this confusion in context : I live in India and I speak Hindi. But not Tamil. So if a so-called “insider” like myself is baffled, I suspect that were a non-Indian reader, unfamiliar with the country/language to read this book, he/she would be stumped.
Use of different languages in a novel is nothing new, and when well integrated it can often enrich the reading experience, adding a true, authentic “local colour” feeling. For example, I have recently finished the 7th of the Chief Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong. Mr. Qiu uses Chinese terms, refers to food by its Chinese name, uses Chinese street names, but always manages to explain what he has just said, so that the narrative flows and you are not excluded from the novel.
No-one necessarily expects a glossary (though in this case it would have helped enormously) because, like Mr. Qiu, there are subtle ways of explaining the use of a word in another language. No such help in this book, which is what made it so baffling to a non Tamil speaker and – ultimately – made me feel excluded from the story, and inevitably less involved.
Let me give you an example.
I have no idea what the extract below is telling me. No idea at all.
Nor here :
Since food and rituals are such an evocative part of a culture, it seems a wasted opportunity on the part of Mr. Kumar, not to engage his readers more…
The same goes for this, below :
Mr. Kumar favours short sentences :
Sometimes his descriptions are spot on :
The sentence below is a little gem. In one sparse sentence, we know exactly what Mr. Murty is like. Perfect writing.
But more often than not, I was left baffled by the over use of the F word. Sometimes profanity is justified. And other times it isn’t :
I thought that first paragraph (above) was doing quite nicely, just as I thought the description of the mother (below) was well written and lyrical. And then came the F word…I’m not a prude, far from it, I just found the profanity jarring and mostly unnecessary. I’m not convinced shock value is an acceptable substitute for good prose.
Ultimately, I found “Virgin Gingelly” an alienating, unsatisfactory read. And I never did figure out what the title of the book meant.
Published in 2014 by Hachette, the (lovely looking ) hardback costs Rs 499
But hey! Don’t take my word for it.
Read this book, Mr. Kumar’s second, and judge for yourself.