Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Book Review: If I Die Today by Shashi Deshpande.

Book: If I Die Today

Author: Shashi Deshpande

Pages: 150

How Long It Took Me To Read: 2 days

Read On: Hardback

Plot Summary: Guru, an end-stage cancer patient, comes to a quiet medical campus and quickly befriends his hosts friends and neighbours, his warmth and sympathetic manner encouraging them to confide in him. Out of these conversations emerges a name Prabhakar Tambe which spreads a pall of uneasiness over the doctors and triggers a chain of events that leads to catastrophic results.

Rumours start to fly, old tensions and rivalries between colleagues and friends re- surface, and every family on the campus is caught in a web of suspicion. Within weeks, two people die in mysterious circumstances and it seems that life will never be the same again for the doctors and their families.

General Thoughts: I have enjoyed Shashi Deshpande's writing over the years and so, when I heard that she had written a murder mystery, I was rather excited and simply had to get it! The premise of the book also seemed interesting. I am intrigued by the life, dynamics and politics of small gated communities- such as the 'Steel Plant Colonies' (e.g. Bokaro, Durgapur, to some extent Jamshedpur)as well as Defence Cantonments all over India. The setting of this book is in a hospital's compound where colleagues are neighbours- boy, that must be interesting, nerve-wracking and often unpleasant, I guess! So, you see how this book's premise even without 'murder' seems so interesting! Now add 'murder' to this mix and it is doubly intriguing!

Things I Liked: Quick list:
  • Premise (refer to paragraph above). 
  • A medical drama-type setting was also well crafted and is always interesting (for me) to read about. I was a huge Grey's Anatomy fan (up until Season 9) and so, reading about the daily lives of doctors and their families was rather interesting.
  • The mystery of the multiple murders was also well done. I couldn't really guess who the killer was- it was a bit out of the left field, so to speak- which is always a good thing!
  • The whole question around Guru- who he was, what were the driving motivations behind the things he said and did whilst at the colony are very, very interesting and lend themselves well to a good 'Book Club' type discussion! I made my sister read this book just so we could discuss it. The idea that one person comes in and rattles a seemingly sedate and 'normal' place/community is a very good literary ploy and one that Deshpande executed almost perfectly.
  • Marriage was shown in multiple real, and often, in a rather unflattering light. There were marriages of quiet desperation, marriages of looking-the-other-way, marriages of silence and so on- all very well depicted and interesting. 
  • Similarly, a very balanced perspective on motherhood and family dynamics, in general, was depicted in the book. A clear departure from motherhood is all roses and loveliness and the most common belief that a baby can fix a broken marriage. Shashi Deshpande has done a good job shining a light on multiple kinds of mothers in this book.

Things I Didn't Like:  A few things:
  • If I Die Today is a 150 page book. So, imagine fitting in world building, establishing marital dynamics, office politics, colony dynamics and around 15-16  characters, each with their own marital dynamics, kids, worldviews etc.- all of which were established and set up- in these 150 pages.. It makes for a very dense book! So, even as a seasoned reader, comfortable with complexity, one struggles to remember who is who! It was difficult to keep the multiple couples and what their specific issues were straight and that, my opinion, is a fail! 
  • Also, the killer really came out of nowhere! There were a couple of obvious red herrings but the actual killer was not in the picture in any significant way at all! Also, the killer's reasons for doing what they did was rather.. er.. unclear! 
  • Also, right up until the end, we do not really have any kind of clarity on what drove Guru to kick a hornet's nest and cause a series of murders in this colony! Deshpande does not take a clear stand and the direction she leans toward is rather juvenile! Personally, I do not enjoy books where the author does not take a clear stand on the motivations or nature of their characters. I am sure there are several people who enjoy open-ended endings or enjoy debating and interpreting the actions of characters, but I am not one of them! In my opinion, if an author has presented an imaginary world and a cast of characters that do things within the constraints of that world, then the author owes it to the reader to close things off and tell a complete tale. It is not interactive or participatory to leave things open, without readers knowing everything to know about the fictitious circumstances of the character's context! Guru seems like a sadist with a God complex- someone who no longer cared what happened to him and, ergo, why should he care if his actions inconvenience someone else?! Also, the big issue, which Guru went about trying to expose was not something utterly nefarious but something accidental.. so, Guru's going on a witch hunt of sorts is really quite a bit of an over-reaction!

Rating: 3.5/5

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