Hidden workings of a crazy mind

Hidden workings of a crazy mind

Unresolved
Shobha Nihalani
Hachette
2015, pp 286, Rs 350

Author Shobha Nihalani’s novel Unresolved follows the psychological travails of its protagonist Maya and her attempts to deal with a rather strange marriage. What appears to be a happy domestic scene is not as tranquil as she’d hoped it would be.

When the novel opens, Maya is an eager to please housewife whose feelings for her husband Deepak borders on obsession. She also suffers from bouts of anxiety and apparent paranoia when she thinks of Deepak’s profession. He is, he’s told her, a police officer. But his erratic behaviour and condescending manner lead her to conclude that he might be lying to her about his profession. Her suspicions are further compounded by Pushpa, her neighbour, whose husband Suresh works with Deepak. Then, unable to contain her curiosity, Maya eavesdrops on one of Deepak’s secret meetings at their home — and hears of plans that are, for her, completely unexpected.

There’s a fair bit of intrigue in Unresolved. Maya, it is revealed, has already had a history of mental problems beginning with her mother’s death. And the memory of a stay in a mental health facility leads her to question her doubts over Deepak’s line of work. She fears nobody will believe her anyway, given her past. She is also, despite her misgivings, strong-willed and intelligent. The intensity of her feelings — her thoughts, fears and insecurities, and mistrust — is convincing at the beginning of the book. Yet, far too many pages are devoted to her ruminations and the said intensity is diluted. Nevertheless, she is an interesting character and is not, as her husband Deepak realises, as docile or withdrawn from the world as he’d initially thought. 

Deepak is fond of playing mind games, it seems. He is, at times, affectionate and warm to his new wife Maya, and at other times, she is confused by him. Suresh is brash but predictable. Pushpa is a conflicted soul with a troubled past. There is a host of supporting characters, including Maya’s father, who has some set ideas, and her sister Leela, vocal and independent. And there’s the enigmatic Brij who understands more than what others think. 

Unresolved starts off with an interesting idea. The concept of mind games inflicted on an already traumatised individual and the backstory that goes with it is by itself interesting. Maya’s involvement in a game that is dangerous and complex makes the character intriguing. But the novel’s cast might have been better fleshed out. They appear to have been created with an idea, for example, the male chauvinist or the independent younger sister, and they remain confined within that mould.

It appears that the book could have used more research. Many of the conversations, especially between Deepak and his peers, are stilted and naïve. Considering these characters are supposed to be professionals, some of the words and phrases they use to communicate with each other are grandiose and unrealistic. Evil is one-dimensional and characters like Suresh are almost comically evil.

Deepak himself, with his supposed genius in his line of work, is extraordinarily careless in both word and deed. Neither he nor Suresh is anywhere as discrete as they are supposed to be, with Suresh openly threatening certain characters as the story progresses. There are broad references to events, murders, corruption, medicines and hi-tech devices, none of which are described as clearly as they should be.

And there are editing errors scattered all over the book. An example is on page 81, where a sentence reads, “Leela was giving her a look-my-sister-is-falling-apart that said.” Another is on page 240, “Pushpa was losing her mind, or deliberately being led in that direction Suresh.”

Unresolved might have benefitted from smoother writing, better characterisation, and more research into the themes it tries to present. There was potential here, however, to have had a story of a different kind.


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