I came across Amit’s writing for the first time on his blog, earlier called Mashed Musings. He excels at humour and feminist writings. After he had his daughter, his sporadic daddy journals made for some hilarious reading. But then his blogging took a backseat as he got busy with his first book, False Ceilings. The same book that I am reviewing today.
What is False Ceilings about?
This is a book you would not find many first-time writers writing. It is a complex book which is a family saga spanning generations. The book takes us through the tale of Shakuntala, a young girl, who has a dreamlike life despite some adversities in the beautiful town of pre-Independence Dalhousie when life changes completely due to a turn of events. The book takes you on a journey through her life and times, her children, grandchildren and beyond. The novel explores India of 1920s and spans to a period in the future till 2050. The tale moves ahead as India undergoes her own period of churning and evolution. The book is an epic tale about a dysfunctional family, as real as it can get and a family secret that binds them and destroys them.
What I enjoyed
Character fleshing and writing style: Amit has fleshed out the characters really well. He has taken his time in building each person’s thoughts and feelings and showing why they turned out as they did. What fascinated me is the depth he showed in exploring and creating strong and flawed women characters, the dynamics among whom carry the story forward. There are parts of the book that stun you with the accuracy with which he has got under the skin of the women’s emotions, expectations, their angsts and their struggles. The silly tiffs that spiral into larger issues. The daily struggles and the lack of equation between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in turn poisoning the lives of many others. The sensitivity of Aaryan, who gets emotionally scarred from childhood. The enthusiasm of Lipi who looks forward to happiness in life despite coming from a dysfunctional family. The fate of Kanshi Ram, the suffering of Kusum, the terror of Radha Devi, the lack of spine of Vinod who is pulled between a wife and mother, the inefficacy of Manohar and above all the baffling deterioration of Shakuntala’s character. To tell you the truth, I expected more from Shakuntala and was disappointed when it did not happen. But then as the writer pointed out, sometimes we turn into people we have detested all our lives. I also wish that there were characters who lightened the proceedings, that everyone was not so dark. But then that is the prerogative of the writer.
The research: Amit has researched his facts extensively. The story spans more than a century, a time which was very eventful in India’s history straddling India’s struggle for independence to freedom, partition, dislocation of people and events beyond right through the wars, 84 riots, Mumbai blasts and so on. He has carefully woven the doom and gloom of the events as they cast their shadow on the life of this one family. I also enjoyed reading about the transformation of Delhi and Dalhousie from tranquil towns to bustling cities.
The prose: Amit is really good with descriptions. He explores the natural beauty of both Dalhousie and Delhi graphically. He also takes care to go in depth and lead the reader through the lives, insecurities, jealousies, frailties and tumultuous emotions of his protagonists. Actually, what impressed me is his deft understanding and exploration of human psyche. His prose flows naturally, soothing at times and troubling at others as he gets under the skin of emotions and issues we normally like to sweep under the carpet. He also leaves clever questions along the way that will make you uncomfortable, will make you pause and look for their answers within. Questions we all can relate to.
For a first-time writer to attempt writing of this scale is commendable. The sheer number of characters and events is mind boggling. Also the characters are real and relatable. They are human and extremely flawed. He has brought out the dysfunctional family beautifully. I think that is how most families are under the gloss and shine. Sometimes you wonder why they can’t pull their act together, yet they can’t.
The secret is referred to in every character’s story, appearing tantalizingly and keeping you on the edge as you wait for it to reveal itself. He keeps up the suspense nicely and then ties it well with human failings.
What could be better
Better proofreading: The book would have done with better proofreading. There are many grammatical errors and typos that distract and take away from the beauty of the storytelling.
The non-linear format of storytelling: The story jumps between fast forwards and flashbacks. While, I am normally able to keep track of characters, he cleverly does not reveal who is married to whom hence you may not know that you are reading about say Shakuntala when you are reading Manohar’s story. You connect the dots much later missing out on important detail. It could be confusing to some readers. But that is just my preference. Nothing wrong per se with the writing style.
This book is an engaging read. Its writing, characters and story are its strong points. As the story pans out across generations, it is sure to strike a chord with the reader. It is a mature human tale that must be picked up if you enjoy good writing.
Find out more on the author’s website: http://amit-sharma.co.in
This is not a Sponsored Review.