Pasts tumble and futures fall. This is what came to my mind when I finished reading Supriya Dravid’s debut, A Cool Dark Place. When you read a book on families, you expect a certain amount of restraint. Maybe because that is how families are portrayed sometimes — with control and restraint, without letting too many secrets spill. However, that is not the case with Dravid’s book. The concept of a “dysfunctional family” takes on a different meaning when you read A Cool Dark Place. I for one could not stop talking about it once I was done reading it.
A Cool Dark Place could be set anywhere, and yet the emotions of the characters would loom large and make the book what it is — a romp of a read. A haunted past of the narrator (Zephyr), a relationship with her mother way beyond death, her father’s suicide which she makes readers aware of at the very beginning, and a larger than life twisted grandfather, make the book what it is. The fact that her father wasn’t her father holds the book together.
The book traverses faster than a reader would realise and to a large extent it is the beauty of the prose that keeps hooked. Zephyr is a narrator that hasn’t been found in Indian fiction or I haven’t come across anyone like her. This perhaps will break the mould.
Memory plays a major role throughout the book. What is remembered and what one is forced to remember, though forgetting might be a better option. This somehow would resonate with every reader — given that family dynamics are at the core of this book.
There is almost this sense of urgency in Dravid’s writing to the point that every fact of the family has to be documented. It is the family dynamics more than anything else that lend to the story. The characters are raw and sometimes brooding. Don, the grandfather, is hedonistic, aloof and yet there is something about him that makes the reader angry and smile in some places. The house in Madras in itself is a character that is haunting.
A closet of skeletons opens up right at the beginning and continues till the end. Secrets, confessions and lies spring up on every page — the mess is evident and as a reader, you will be deliciously drawn in. The intricate detailing and vivid imagery seem to have come to Dravid in a dream. The emotional turmoil at times could drain the reader, but that is a sign of how beautiful and involving the writing is. Betrayal and reconciliation go hand in hand. From Madras to memories, everything seems to be on an iPod shuffle — one track jumping to another, maintaining continuity.
I almost started dreaming of the characters and the last book that had that kind of effect on me was The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie. The narrative almost follows the characters’ every turn and thought. There is no bias towards any character. I used to never believe in the concept of characters lending their voices to the book, however in this book it seems a likely probability.
Although there is a lot happening in the book, it doesn’t seem too much. In fact when you reach the end, you only wish there was more to the story — a couple of more sentences on the madness of love, on the crazy sense of family, on what love really is and does it seem to count, on relationships that stumble, and yet somewhere down the line find their way through the book, maintaining a striking balance of words and emotions.
Vivek Tejuja is manager (customer engagement) with Flipkart.com.