Nouvelle Mess

A trying, consciously Indian effort
Moonlight Into Marzipan
By Sunetra Gupta
Penguin India Rs 125; Pages: 170
MARRY Woolf with Weir, pop passion with piffle politics, tortured memory with twisted metaphor and what you get is Moonlight Into Marzipan. Sunetra Gupta's first work Memory of Rain was a washout. Neither novel nor nouvelle.

Gupta seeks to avoid making that dreadful mistake this time round. She's consciously nouvelle: memory lines crisscross across Britain and Bengal, masjids and monsters, godwomen and ghosts, Alexandras and Anyas. Oh yes, there is the mandatory Indian voice here. As slithery, sickening, smooth as the "pondslime" Ms Gupta seems to have a Freudian obsession with: quantities of which she has dredged up, dressed in tired Thesaurus-sic Park prose and presented as "literary" work; one that wide-eyed reviewers will hail as "uniquely Indian, redolent with the smell, the sound, the quintessence of India".

Instances of the Indian touch: a narrative peppered with references to Ramayana and rasogollas, Orissa and Shantiniketan, joint family and chapati. And lest she be accused of lack of cinematic vision, literary range, sweep, Gupta grasshops. Madly.

Moonlight Into Marzipan is so "rich", so "layered", and oh so torturously "textured" with Bengali characters like Yuri, Luna and Sputnik Sen, British oddballs like Sir Percival Partridge, Latino lover like Juan Gorrion (shades of Don Juan de Marcos though Depp was deeper even as cardboard and paste cinema character); a story that takes us into as the blurbs might put it "worlds as diverse as Orissa and Oxford".

A wafer-thin storyline is saddled with subplots that collapse upon a centre that does not hold. Characters are stifled into caricature. Good prose could have redeemed the bad plot. But sample this: "Images unventilated all these years steam softly as they are dragged out from the humid recesses of my memory...my many laundered thoughts, yours to fold and crease, and even to dye that the patches might be hidden in the flawed remembrance of a tropical blue." What is this book doing in the bookstores? It should be taken to the cleaners.

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