There is darkness somewhere in everyone’s past, Shinie Antony says in her new book, The Girl Who Couldn’t Love. No matter how normal one looks, the darkness continues to mould them. The story starts in a peaceful world. We have a seemingly content spinster, Roo, a.k.a. Rudrakshi Sen, living with her mother, and their shared memories of her father, a literature scholar who died early. Her best friend is another girl named EeeDee, with whom she shares a bond of books.
Things begin to shake up when a stranger, Kumar, appears in her life, slowly beginning an affair with her. Roo sees it as a purely physical fling. But Kumar seems to have some sort of secret that he’s hiding from Roo.
About 90 pages in, the affair seems to be winding down as expected—but for us the reader, everything changes in one sudden, powerful, chapter. We’re taken back to Roo’s childhood and her strange relationship with her father and with EeeDee.
We learn why Roo is so ambivalent about love, and also the chilling events that tie together Roo, her mother, and EeeDee. Then on, the story seems to speed up with all the revelations that keep pouring in, ending in a climactic, enervating, slash.
Antony is reminiscent of the slow-burn writers such as Patricia Highsmith or Otessa Moshfegh in this work, a sort of domestic potboiler where the characters are trapped fast in the webbing of their own lives, but they are all but invisible to the world at large.
Small hints to the hidden darkness are interspersed through the text, meaning nothing to the reader until she comes back to them later. The language, too, is sharp and chiseled, literary rather than swashbuckling.
Perhaps the only place one feels the book is lacking is the trigger event for the back-story. As mentioned above, the narrative moves linearly until about page 90, when Antony decides to tell us what has gone before. There is no clear reason for her to choose this place to do so—it would have made just as much sense a couple of chapters later, or maybe somewhere earlier.
A small incident here, such as the revelation of some new information about Kumar, or maybe the discovery of a letter or diary would have been the plausible trigger for the set of memories. But maybe that is Antony’s point. The dark memories are always there, in everyone’s life. Sometimes they come back, for no good reason. Taken as a philosophical point, this makes sense. As a noir reader, less so. But don’t let this minor flaw take you away from this short, engrossing, and occasionally horrifying read. It’s a welcome return to a more intimate form of thriller.