Date Published: 25 November 2017
Source: Harper Collins Review Copy
Goodreads Synopsis: ‘You, though, are as beautiful as light splitting through glass.’ Nine characters recall their relationship with a young woman – the same woman – whom they have loved, or who has loved them. We piece her together, much as we do with others in our lives, in incomplete but illuminating slivers. Set in familiar and nameless cities, moving between east and west, The Nine-Chambered Heart is a compendium of shifting perspectives that follows one woman’s life, making her dazzlingly real in one moment, and obscuring her in the very next. Janice Pariat’s exquisitely written new novel is about the fragile, fragmented nature of identity – how others see us only in bits and pieces, and how sometimes we tend to become what others perceive us to be.
My View: The first I heard of this book was when I was invited to its book launch. I had never seen a performative play before and I am glad I finally did. It was really well done, intense and made me inquisitive about the book. Of course, the prior interview with the author helped. And hence I asked for a review copy.
Lo and galore, this beautiful hardback landed in my mailbox. I started reading it the same day. While reading, my mind went back to the play. I could ‘see’ the characters playing their parts, could remember their voices. They had indeed done a really good job!
About the book, I am really not sure where to begin. The words paint vivid pictures, the expressions intense, a smile here, a curious glance there. It’s like a movie running in your head. And all the while, you’re trying to picture this character, filling in the gaps, kohl’ing her eyes, painting her lips. A little by little, as you get to know her better but do you really? Get to know her better? Or is it all a mirage and you’re just looking from nine pairs of eyes and seeing someone different each time? Is it the same person throughout? Or have the layers piled on? The character has developed and is no longer who she was earlier? Such an enigma.
Truth be told, I read so much international fiction, that sometimes it takes me ages to get into an Indian-author written book. That was so not the case with Pariat’s book. It just went on, smoothly, without any bumps. Like lyrics, the writing flew by. At times melodious, at times rough. But there it was. Very vivid and striking. It follows you days after you have read it. And you wonder.
I like the way the relationships are projected. Fleeting, fragile, gone with the wind. Isn’t it how they all are? Maybe a touch of imagination, a dash of freedom has been added but the essence remains. All these relationships, they speak their own mind, tell their own story and leave for you to unravel this person, this central character who never really appears except what you know of her through others and the kind of relationship they have had with her.
Despite all the things I liked, there are a couple caveats. I understand the need to not label names, places etc and leave them as they are. That is not a problem. But if I have to read ‘city without a river’ and ‘city with a river’ 8 times (or maybe more), it irritates the hell out of me. I would rather read ‘Delhi’ or ‘Sikkim’ or I can even do without any mention of it. But that line, again and again, drives me crazy. Really!
However, if you can put this little irritant aside, there’s a lot for you here. Hidden in this gem of a book. I think I will go back to it again one day and re-read, to once again lose myself in the mystery, the way relationships work and don’t. The way in which life goes on with hiccups. The way you don’t know where life is headed and have no control over it. And maybe learn a bit or two. To add a bit of carelessness to yourself, to live a little, to throw caution to the wind, and go on living, unabashed, unfettered…
Janice is a writer based between London and New Delhi/Shillong (depending on the weather). Her first book Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories won the Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award and the Crossword Award for Fiction in 2013. Her novel Seahorse has been published by Vintage, Random House India, in November 2014.
She studied English Literature at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
Her work has featured in a wide number of national magazines & newspapers including OPEN, Art India, Tehelka, Caravan: A Journal of Culture & Politics, Outlook & Outlook Traveller, Motherland, and Biblio: A Review of Books, among others.
(Thank you, Harper Collins for providing me a review copy. All opinions are my own and unbiased.)