In a world of uncertainty

In a world of uncertainty

The narratives could well be short stories, except that the author leaves you in a state of suspense over the happenings in the life of one character, as she swiftly moves to an incident in the life of another. Even here, the stories do not move in linear progression, as Chattarjee employs the stream of consciousness format to familiarise the reader with each character. This can get a little tedious until the reader is familiarised with all the protagonists. 

The novel hovers between the real and the surreal in the Kafkaesque tradition, and unfolds with its angst-ridden players running from something dreaded — an apocalypse waiting to happen... “It is all impending, and she is waking and shrinking, each of them is leaving and entering the separate shells of their momentary beings...”

The author brings to this novel her gift of lyrical prose.  Observations like, “I will plug out of this world into some other neo-reality. I will become more than just flesh. An idea. A mutation. A channel,” creates an alternate reality with a poet’s minimalist use of words.  It is the magic of words that help to hold the reader’s attention throughout and especially when the suffering of the characters become hard to bear.

Also among Sampurna’s strengths is the understanding that she brings to the schizophrenic churnings in the minds of her characters and their decisional dilemmas, torn as they are between polarising thoughts and emotions.

Insights into every day dilemmas like the fear of missing a bus, not being able to tender the exact change and facing the wrath of the conductor are also explored in leisurely fashion. Chattarjee has the ability to create reader identification, as she examines the thought processes of her protagonists who seem to be united in their dysfunctional ways and yet seem all the more human for it.

For a good part of the book, the author employs a leisurely writing style in delineating the lives of her characters.  Half-way through she also helps the reader to put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle by making the lives of some of the protagonists converge whilst others continue on parallel lines. 

But towards the end one might experience a sense of dissatisfaction, as some of the intersections appear less convincing. Also, some characters seem well fleshed out whilst others appear incomplete. Could this be a result of the editorial word limit or is it an indication of a first time novelist’s sense of unease with this aspect of writing?  
Sampurna’s use of the Bengali language adds to the strength of her narration and her literary turn of phrase. The opening quotation from Lucretius, (‘Nothing appears as it should in a world where nothing is certain.

The only thing certain is the existence of a secret violence that makes everything certain’) sets the tone for this novel. It is a dark tale with no fairy tale solutions in sight and yet compelling and hard to put down. The reader is hooked and caught up in the maze of characters, as they make their labyrinthine passage through the book and their burdensome lives.

Sampurna Chattarjee
pp 347, Rs 350