Book review | An unconventional start that still lacks the plot

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Anupama Raju’s first novel, VS, is a dreamlike amalgamation of poetry and prose, a lyrical tour de force that quivers with deeply felt impressions and emotions. It is the tale of an incomplete crisis of the mind and its eventual emergence from darkness into light – from the depths of confusion and obsession to a measure of self-awareness and self-esteem.

The anonymous first-person narrator arrives at a college campus in a town in a foreign country to pursue a writing sabbatical. The city, simply called “C”, is one that is shrouded in perpetual night. The writer acclimatizes to the eternal darkness of this sunless place, lit only by electricity and sometimes pierced by vast white gulls hovering above his head. Although she sometimes remembers and longs for the sights and sounds of her hometown, her native “C”, so to speak, she also feels an overwhelming kinship with the winter shadow that now covers her.

Maybe it’s because she knows all about darkness and harbors pools of it within herself – the depression she’s struggled with, her suicidal tendencies, and the unfulfilled, obsessive love she has. for a man. He pervades her entire being, and she builds a cathedral of expectations around him – wanting him to respond more, reciprocate more, and flood her with an intensity of emotion to match her own. But he never satisfies his emotional aspirations. His reactions are always laconic, his expressions always subdued and sometimes abruptly absent. He remains distant, loving her perhaps, but never tearing down the horrible barrier he has chosen to erect between them – that he has “commitments” and “responsibilities” elsewhere, and that she can never be first in priority.

As she travels through her thoughts of the past and present, her narrative intertwines with the voice of ‘C’ – that dark city. C points to her as his storyteller, empathizing with her and silently urging her to tell not just her own story – but the city’s too – a story as fantastical as it is metaphorical.

The novel clearly has autobiographical overtones – like the narrator, Raju is a writer and poet and she too has gone on a writing scholarship in another country. In fact, this particular work appears to have been primarily written during this writing stint. However, C’s story is not contained within the usual framework of a plot. The narrative is partly allegorical, partly a procession of lyrical imagery, which makes the story nominal and fragmentary. The novel is also peppered with poems by Raju, which, coupled with the liquid grace of his prose, casts a spell over the reader.

This is not a conventional novel. But Raju is not a conventional voice. Her sensibility is that of a poet, and it would be interesting to know if this talented writer will harness her imagination for things like plot and characterization the next time she tackles the literary form of a novel.

C: A novel
By Anupama Raju
Aleph
p. 234, Rs 699

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