(Attempting a review for the first time. Comments welcome :))
The first thing that you notice on picking up the book, apart from the beautiful reader-designed cover, is the big font. The big font size takes the reader’s attention away (and maybe towards) the realization that this is more of an extended short story and less of a novel in the conventional sense. The narrative flows in a single chord and prevents the reader’s attention from being diverted anywhere else. Though this makes it difficult to complete the book in multiple sittings and warrants demands a single sitting to complete it, at some points in the narrative you may feel the itch to go deeper in to the lives of the secondary characters.
The book essentially revolves around the characters of the narrator, Abir Ganguli and Muneeza, a lower middle class muslim girl and how their relationship changes as they get to know each other. Muneeza’s character may seem a bit unrealistic at times but the care which Varma has taken to bring out the confusion in her and Abir’s mind makes you forget it soon.
Apart from these two, there are only two other characters in the story with any semblance of a back story. One is Mohammed Iqbal, who is dead in the first 5 pages and does not make an appearance in the book alive. The second is Inspector Thombre, the man responsible for Iqbal’s death. Iqbal’s character is brought forth through the discussions the protagonist has with his daughter, Muneeza after his death. Whereas Thombre enjoys the privilege of being able to tell his own story and makes the best of it. His monologue on his personal and professional life and the role of government in society is a classic. Varma has made sure that he maintains Thombre’s conversational style throughout the monologue and doesn’t let his own (Varma’s) voice take over. This is commendable specially since this is a theme that Varma repeatedly allures to in his blog.
The other characters like the characters of Abir’s mother and bosses are pretty much uni-dimensional, to the point that they can each be described in a single line. Though it must be said that they really don’t have much of a role in the book. Still it would have been nice to see behind these uni-dimensional figures and know what they think.
The one sore point in the book for me was the ending. I felt it came on too suddenly and leaves a lot of questions unanswered in the reader’s mind. It almost feels like Varma is intentionally leaving the story hanging so as to be able to bring out a sequel later on.
The style of writing is nice and easy and peppered with humorous references of the kind that you read in Varma’s blog. Varma has said in a couple of places that the only thing common between Abir and him is the sense of humor that they share. For regulars readers of IndiaUncut, this fact is apparent even though there is a marked absence of cows in the story.
The author says that he has attempted to straddle the space between popular fiction (think Chetan Bhagat) and literary fiction (think Amitav Ghosh). Comparing MFS to the work of Chetan Bhagat, it must be said that the latter’s style is more reachable to readers in non-urban settings whereas MFS’s success would mostly be limited to metros. The mind of the narrator works like a typical upper middle class metropolitan youth (which he is) and may be difficult for non-urban readers to understand his dilemmas.
All in all, a very credible first attempt. Immensely enjoyable and entertaining but for the above points.