03 August, 2021

Too Much Is Half

A little overtaken by craft ... Ambition, even literary ambition, has to be made of sterner stuff.

Too Much Is Half
I had read an earlier novel of Anita Nair, The Better Man, and had liked it. It had a formal artlessness and the Kerala the novelist had placed her characters in sounded authentic. Mistress is a little overtaken by craft. The author has employed an elaborate pattern with navarasas, the nine states of being, as chapters, with a prelude to each section, and the characters narrating a bit of the story by turns, creating a jigsaw puzzle for the reader. The southern form of dance, Kathakali, is used as a kind of backdrop and the book ends with an index for some of the terms referring to the dance. Adultery is a recurrent theme of the novel and it is difficult not to think of Anna Karenina. But the men and women in Mistress are small people whose small concerns are made even smaller by self-doubt about their social rectitude, parentage, heritage, etc. Men who go gallivanting aren’t sure they can ever father a child. Though there is some mention of places and a river, they don’t matter much. It is more the physical execution of Sringara, one of the nine...

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