Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Counsel of Strangers - Gouri Dange, Book Review

I bought this book at the book launch in Hyderabad. My editor and good friend Keerti Ramachandra called me from Bangalore then, and told me in her typical style, that I must go to the book launch and I did. The reading was done by the famous Little Theatre and the event was held at Crossword, Banjara Hills. I attended the event with Raja who was here on a holiday and met many known friends - Vinod, Mr. Shankar Melkote and a few others I cannot recollect. Though I got myself an autographed copy of the book from Gouri, whom I later met in Pune at her wonderful house and spent an hour or so with, I somehow never got around to read it till the other day. Gouri has been previously published by Penguin, her first novel being 3 Zakia Mansion, which got good reviews all over. She does many interesting things - and also has turned publisher - this book being published by her publishing outfit OMO Books.

'The Counsel of Strangers' is a quick, easy and nice read. The 268 page book (Rs. 250) does not tax you at all, is breezy, has a wonderfully flippant style and is very funny in parts. I really like Gouri's style of writing and what stood out most was her irreverent style more than the content. It kept me reading on and on.

Far as the book is concerned it is about a bunch of 6 people who meet at a wedding and spend the night talking of their lives to the other strangers. Mostly of their problems and their lives, and the others pitch in with their advise and suggestions. It is then a collection of six short stories - from an retired Wing Commander Brahme who finds and loses a companion in the USA, to a fourteen year old Kartik and his issues with his brilliant and trouble prone brother, to Anandi Mohini the one who gets divorced and goes to America and returns without her companion, to Sahil Baig the failed journalist, to Nurse Sajani who grows to hate human bodies to Prof. Ambika Natrajan, the academic who falls asleep in her son's premiere. The stories are quite readable, relatable. But they never drew me in, save for the Wing Commander's love story and certainly the one of Anandi-Mohini which was the best for me. In these stories Gouri flows, especially the one of Anandi-Mohini, whose story I could read on and on just because Gouri wrote so comfortably, so convincingly about her. Maybe Gouri could write a whole novel about this wonderful woman sometime. The young kid, the journo, the old lady and Nurse Sajani were kind of flat and I was not too drawn into their lives - could not care less what happened to their lives after. However with the other two it did leave a nice feeling.

I also felt that the reason why this motley group got together to share such intimate stuff was not established properly. Their responses to the others stories were rather cryptic and perhaps out of character at times - too short to think why they responded the way they did. I had the same problem with Chitra Divakurani's 'One Amazing Thing' as well - never could understand why each one was telling the other their intimate stories. Anita Nair's 'Ladies Coupe' was one of this genre which seemed to have the time and space and environment to allow such sharing - between women in a private space on a long journey.

But that said, I am happy I discovered Gouri because I simply loved her style of writing. I have recently seen a review of 3, Zakia Mansion written by my good friend Dr. Ranjani whose reviews I completely trust and rate highly and she rated that book highly. I will read that as well and certainly more of Gouri's stuff as she churns out more. She is one of the few IWE writers I genuinely like.


Dr. Ranjani said...

Hey - Thanks for the vote of confidence in my book reviews.

Harimohan said...

But of course! Chitra Banerjee is one of my favorites ever since the 'Palace of Illusions'. So when are we all catching up - been a while since we all met.