Nouvelle But Vague

It's Abha Dawesar's best novel, but I was completely indifferent to it, enervated by its characters' self-regard, unmoved by their solipsistic dramas
Nouvelle But Vague
That Summer On Paris
By Abha Dawesar
Random House Pages: 352; Rs: 295
It must be acknowledged at the outset that this, Abha Dawesar’s third novel, is her best. But I was completely indifferent to it, enervated by its characters’ self-regard, unmoved by their solipsistic dramas. An interviewer in a trade magazine drew a spurious comparison to Philip Roth, one Dawesar invites, quoting Nathan Zuckerman (so often Roth’s alter ego) in the epigraph, and shoehorning him into a scene as a writing professor at Harvard. Like Roth’s characters, Prem Rustum, Dawesar’s ageing Nobel laureate, is seeking a last, revivifying affair.

He looks for a lover on the net and finds it in a personal ad: "Spiritual twenty-something aspiring novelist with hot buns and yoga body seeks another. Write like Prem Rustum, think like Prem Rustum, speak like Prem Rustum, be Prem Rustum. Worship at his altar like I do." Maya of the hot buns and yoga body has been offered a fellowship in Paris and Prem, naturally, decides to follow.

In Paris, Prem and Maya go to museums and galleries, concerts and films, have interminable conversations about art, and no sex. The issues Dawesar takes on, love, sex, death, art, the processes of creation, are grave. Too grave for the slight, even rote treatment they receive in That Summer. Dawesar draws less from life than from bad French films.

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