To start with the title is quite intriguing. But at the same time I feel it works as a double edged sword. For a book touted as a psychological or paranormal thriller, this kind of title has some kind of flippancy to it that gives away the direction the story is likely to take. The title straight away sets an expectation of humor or spoof and takes away some of the surprise element the writer might have hoped to achieve. Of course this could have turned to be a red herring if the story indeed had real ghosts and demons in it. But it doesn’t and I guess I am not giving away a spoiler by stating that as the blurb talks about superstitions etc. which tells you there is unlikely to be any paranormal element.
The overall premise is quite interesting. A North Indian IT Professional working in Chennai travels around the Tamil hinterland to de-stress during the weekends. One of his journeys takes him to a totally remote village steeped in superstitions. The story goes on to describe the rational minded protagonist’s interactions with the superstitious villagers and how their strong beliefs ends up swaying an educated person like him as well. This tale comes as a breath of fresh air amidst the oft repeated themes that keep surfacing in the Indian book market all the time.
The thing I liked most about this story was the tone of the narrative. The writer has such a unique and engaging voice that keeps the reader engaged even though hardly anything happens through the first half of the book. Most people can relate to the stress and boredom the modern corporate life creates and the desire to break away into the wilderness. I liked how the author keeps taking the reader into the mind of the protagonist and shows us his experience in rural Tamil Nadu through the lens of a city bred IT professional. Talking of rural Tamil Nadu, I must say the village and its people have been portrayed very well and I could immediately visualize the scenes from some of the village based Tamil movies.
One think I must say is that for a short book of 100 pages, the author has tried to do too many things. As I mentioned earlier the title and blurb blunted the edge of the horror element. Moreover the sequence of narrative also does not really work on the mind of the reader. I would have liked the story to start with the protagonist stranded in the jungle in the middle of the night and cut back and forth revealing to the reader snippets of his journey to the village and interactions with the villagers. The chronological sequencing leaves the reader clueless as to the direction the story is heading till reader is half way through. After that I had no expectation of any major surprises to come as there were only 30-40 pages remaining.
Also the author has fallen into a trap which Bollywood comedy often falls into – he tends to mix humor with being preachy. I understand that the author had a message to convey about shunning superstitions which is a laudable objective indeed. However I feel it would have been more appealing if the author had taken a more tangential approach conveying it through the ludicrous situations rather than having the protagonist spell it out directly in the face of the reader. In my opinion the book would have been much more impactful if the reader had chosen one of the two – horror or humor and stuck to it. Message oriented is a third choice I would not prefer. I am not particularly fond of preachy books as such though I myself tend to get preachy at times in my stories.
Overall I must say for a first time author it is a commendable effort. Some of the things I have pointed out are actually easier said than done. However as an aspiring author myself, I was thinking of this story from the point of view of how I would have liked to write it. The book has quite a juicy premise that I would have loved to get my teeth into and I must appreciate Nethra for identifying such gems. On a closing note, I would say I definitely recommend everyone to give this book a try. It stands up very well in comparison to most of the contemporary Indian books. It is not heavily taxing on your wallet or your clock as such and definitely worth every penny and second you invest on it.