Book review

In Janice Pariat’s novel 'Seahorse', real and metaphorical journeys between New Delhi and London

A narrative of journeys both internal and external, here is a first novel rich in detail and inviting in prose.

Janice Pariat’s first novel Seahorse is both a rivetting mystery and a passionate love story. Neremiah, or Nem, the protagonist, comes to Delhi from a small, hilly, rainy town in India to study literature and meets the handsome art professor Nicholas. Nem, who is already battling his ghosts from the past, is instantly drawn to Nicholas and develops an intense romantic relationship with him.

But one day, suddenly, without leaving any message, Nicholas disappears. He leaves India, and never comes back. Nem is unable to deal with this trauma and much of the novel is about how Nem narrates his tragedy in first person and how he tries to move on with his life.

Dextrously arranged around the anecdotes of Nicholas and Nem’s relationship is the story of rediscovering Nicholas in Britain more than a decade later. Nem – who is now in London for a fellowship – gets a note from Nicholas. This is a clue he is determined to follow, despite several obstacles that he will encounter.

What follows is a series of surprising turn of events. Pariat keeps the readers wonderfully hooked throughout his discovery process of Nicholas and his past life by revealing only the right amount of information.

Journeys metaphorical and real

Seahorse is also a novel of journeys at several levels. For instance, it can be read as Nem’s journey through a series of relationships – after Nicholas leaves, he dates women and men both in Delhi and London but memories of his passionate relationship with Lenny in his hometown and his intense attraction for Nicholas perhaps makes him unable to have sustained and meaningful relationships with other women and men.

Pariat’s lovemaking scenes are lyrical and lush like her prose, and they are a treat to read. They don’t reveal much. They are suggestive, and leave the reader wanting for a lot more.

Along with these figurative journeys from one relationship – or random hookups – to another, is another literal journey that shapes Nem’s life: the journey from his small hometown to Delhi where he studies, settles and earns a living, to his journey to London on a fellowship where he has to face and solve the mystery of his relationship with Nicholas in Delhi. The climax of the novel is set in the British countryside – far away from London – where he doesn’t get proper mobile network.

Nem travels to Myra’s house in the countryside, where she lives with her father, to learn why Nicholas disappeared. In this new place, he is trapped because of a flood and later by stories that he would unearth about Nicholas from Myra – who was introduced to Nem by Nicholas in India when she was visiting as “my step-sister.”

The devil in the details

One of the biggest strengths of Pariat’s writing is the beautiful and detailed description of Delhi and London. In her rich prose, the cities come alive with all their sensory details. However, this is also something that works against the otherwise gripping novel. It gives the plot a lot of fat, decreasing the energy and sense of movement. Though beautiful, a lot of the detailing of London comes across as unnecessary, if not indulgent. These passages neither take the story forward or deepen our understanding of the characters, nor contribute to the mood of the situations.

Pariat has a tendency to pour in every little bit of information about a journey that the characters are taking to get a drink or meet someone or watch a performance. Editing out some of these long walks with unnecessary details of London would have perhaps have provided more momentum. Similarly, there are numerous references to music played in the background.

At the end of the novel there is an author’s note that tries to encourage the readers to visit a web address to listen to the songs and compositions mentioned in the novel. The note laments that the book doesn’t come with a CD, and hence this page is curated for the adventurous reader. It reads rather like a defence for bombarding the readers with names of compositions. The story and the novel would have been even more enjoyable without these self-indulgent lists. A novel shouldn’t need a CD pack to create a mood – the text should be adequate.

Stumbling blocks

Another aspect where the novel stumbles is characterisation. Several characters, such as Malini and Nithi, are randomly inserted and abandoned soon after. These, and some other, characters are clearly pulled out of nowhere to make the plot move. This erodes the plausibility of the book and leaves us with just two memorable characters: Myra and Nem. One may not even care about Nicholas because so little is said about him. He is crucial only because Nem repeatedly remembers him and is scarred by his sudden disappearance. But at the end, it is Myra and Nem who emerge as compelling, real human beings: the rest of the characters seem like mere devices that were required to make the novel move forward.

This is disappointing, because so much care and attention has gone into creating the cityscape, in expressing Nem’s trauma with beautiful metaphors. In fact, we want to know about Nicholas so much because Nem is so obsessed with him, not because Nicholas himself is intriguing. But despite these minor issues that makes the novel occasionally a tedious read, Pariat deserves applause for telling a gripping story in a voice that is tender and inviting.

Aruni Kashyap is a novelist and translator.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.