Unpretentious elite

LEAD REVIEW

Unpretentious elite

SNAPSHOT A tale of three friends.A snapshot of the Pakistani elite. A tale of three girlfriends. A showcase of pitfalls that the ‘liberal’ minds often miss. Maha Khan Phillips, the author of The Mystery of the Agnee Ruby, in her quick-read Beautiful from this Angle, unassumingly captures a lot of profundity through her flitting socialite protagonists. In what initially comes across as a frivolous book about the partying and vain community, Phillips deals with a number of topical issues which have a tendency to find refuge under the rug.

Karachi’s hottest Page 3 parties! ‘Party Queen on the Scene’, Amynah Farooqui, our protagonist, doles out the lives and times of the happening. Anonymous in her columnist avatar, Amynah shares the lowdown on the gossip in her weekly scripts. Amynah’s lifestyle of drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll starkly contrasts that of her prim and proper best friends Henna and Mumtaz. The plot deviates from the party scene of Pakistan when a reality show called ‘Who Wants to be a Terrorist?’ is produced by a Page 3 usual, Monty Mohsin. Following this, Mumtaz, the socially awkward of the trio, hatches a brilliant idea to make a documentary about violence against women in India. Nilofer, Henna’s childhood friend from the village, is decided upon as the heroine of the documentary. It is then that hidden agendas emerge, thickening the plot while simultaneously threatening to affect the best friends’ lives permanently.

Tackling some poignant matters, which are frequently written over, is this novel. For one, the mostly ignored concept of constructed news in media. Maha Khan Phillips takes a delicious dig at the fourth estate, which left me a happier person. Dealing with Pakistani politics, fundamentalism, women’s concerns, the good life and vanity from an elitist’s aloof standpoint, the appealing fact about this book is that it makes no excuse for it. Being true to itself, Beautiful from this Angle says it pretty much as it is. 

Starting with a ‘Letter to the Editor’ and its nonchalant reply from the ‘Queen of the Party Scene’ herself, the book ensnares your curiosity instantly. The novel uses news articles to aid the progress of the plot which, in my opinion, is a very crafty narrative technique. Taking the epistolary style of writing novels forward is the author’s use of e-mails to create an amusing writing style.

A modern and simple adaptation, e-mails in the novel bring to the table the immediacy of our contemporary lives. This, by no means, is a dig at the author’s writing skills. With a sharp sense of humour and an intelligence to match, the book is simply devoid of airs of being literally deft.

Not mincing words, this paperback sticks to an urban outlook sans the nostalgic and scenic imagery that plays into the pining cheesiness of readers. A hardcore city-product, Beautiful from this Angle makes no charade of understanding the psyche of the village folk which in itself is endearing. Hilarious in its accounts of the reality show ‘Who Wants to Be a Terrorist?’, the lives of corrupt barons and with snide remarks on the Taliban, this novel implies a sense of detachment that comes with fortune alone.

The only factor that didn’t go down well with me was the irritating notes to self in the drafts of the novel that Amynah makes to keep herself busy. But then, I haven’t ever attempted to write a novel and couldn’t possibly presume to be sure that no one writes self-conscious notes to self (evidently meant for a third party more than anything else). Different strokes for different folks, I assume. For that reason alone, I am ready to give her the benefit of doubt on this one.

Squishing the mighty school of thought that ‘good’ novels need to be ostentatious is this unpretentious book that flutters through the high society of loose morals and vain pursuits. Its lack of advocacy redeems it from the black hole that many a pampered ‘writer’ essaying society life has earlier slipped into.

Designed fittingly, the novel’s cover sports a woman’s mouth taking a drag on her cigarette. In a classic case of judging the book by its cover, its non-conforming cover art did give me a sense of what was in store for me inside. Shallow, as that may sound, it is solely to Phillips’ credit that you do get much more than you expect from this book, going only by its cover.

The one thing that I identified with and took away from Beautiful from this Angle was its carefree attitude and its impenitent promotion of the often-guilty point of view of the privileged. It takes all sorts to make reading enjoyable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I hope you do too.

BEAUTIFUL FROM THIS ANGLE
Maha Khan Phillips
Penguin
2010, pp 240
250

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