Strong narrative

Lead review
Last Updated 09 October 2010, 12:18 IST

Secrets and Sins is the second in the trilogy of books that Jaishree Misra has been signed up for by publisher, AVON.  Such circumstances could well put some pressure on a writer, but Mishra has acquitted herself creditably in this very racy novel.  The short chapters compel the reader to read on even as Misra manages to sustain the interest and curiosity.

While the story is set in London, there are occasional shifts to Mumbai and parts of Europe, with the forbidden romance taking place in the midst of the Cannes Film Festival. Here is where Riva Walia, the protagonist meets college sweetheart, Aman Khan, now a famous Bollywood star.  Aman is a likable chap sans starry airs, and a romantic to boot; remembering and keeping track of the sweetheart of his college years (Riva, now a famous writer and recipient of the Orange Prize in literature) even as he is trapped in a loveless marriage to Salma, with the only saving grace being his young son, Ashfaque.
The interesting aspect is that Riva on her part is also following Aman’s career, not missing an opportunity to view his movies or to be a part of the audience when his films premier in London where she finds “his candour and lack of pretence” to be “disarming.” The story moves from Leeds, 1994 to London, 2009 in the space of the first two chapters and Jaishree continues to employ this technique of moving back and forth throughout the narrative, without a falter.

The build-up to the almost filmy meeting between Riva and Aman at Cannes happens after the novel crosses the half-way mark, which is hard to fathom even as other characters and their shenanigans hog the pages.  

The title, Secrets and Sins appears to take a moralistic stand on the view of infidelities, but Mishra certainly does not fight shy of detailed descriptions of the extra-marital encounters.

Or perhaps, she is employing a tested technique to ensure book sales!

The author’s literary style is very appealing and contributes to the strength of the narrative making the occasional profanity, appear out of character. Mishra’s analyses also add flavour, as she tries to understand her choices at different points in her life.
Jaishree reveals her wonderful powers of observation, as she describes places and makes them come alive. Those who have lived and visited London will surely experience a sense of nostalgia reading her descriptions. She seems to love the use of brand names, as she drops them gloriously with regard to cars, clothes, food and other possessions, thus creating word pictures about the protagonists who use them.

The author also does a good job of analysing the differences between someone who has been born and raised in India, as compared to someone from the diaspora. In this case, Riva is able to relate better to Ben from England and plumps for him as her husband, even as Aman holds out magical possibilities hailing from the country of her origins.

What is also interesting is the contrasting images that Jaishree creates of Riva and her sister, Kaya. They are portrayed to be poles apart throughout, until she unites them in their infidelities. The sisters’ reactions to each other are certainly among the high points of the novel and makes up for other disappointments like the limited use of dialogue. One also wishes that a little more had been written about Riva, the winner of the Orange Prize for fiction.

Since present day Bollywood is replete with Khans, one can’t help but speculating whether Jaishree had any or all of them in mind when fleshing out the character of Aman Khan. The reader might look for resemblances; hard to find and only Jaishree may have the answer!

(Published 09 October 2010, 12:18 IST)

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