Book Review: Banquet On The Dead


BANQUET ON THE DEAD - BY SHARATH KOMARRAJU

I can conclude this review in one line, which will be enough to stoke curiosity about the book. "It pays to experiment; experimentation reveals new vistas and experiences, new sources of joy". Meaning: if you avoid new authors, you might just miss out on some lovely reading! On a side note, it is heartening to see the flood of Indian writers emerge on the scene, especially as most of them are of a uniformly high calibre. Another person who belongs in this cadre is the current author Sharath Komarraju. Yes, he can improve; but what he has produced is by no means anything to sneeze at, as you can see for yourself in the review below

The Characters
Kauveramma: The Peice de resistance; the unfortunate victim
Inspector Valmiki Nagarajan: Quintessential policeman, but with some redeeming points
Hamid Pasha: Dogged, Intelligent, Reticent, Discerning

These are the 3 principal characters in this whodunit; the others comprise the family members of the victim - Prameela, Karuna, Venkatraman, Kotesh etc; each  a suspect of the crime

The Plot
Kauveramma, the head of the family - an old lady, falls into a well and breathes her last. The case is closed as an accident case, and life moves on. But one family member is not satisfied, and appeals to the police to reconsider. This starts a private, quiet investigation into the matter, which forms the subject matter of the book. Each family member is interrogated, every circumstance gone into and the crime scene reconstructed as the investigators try to get at the truth. The problem is a classic whodunit - the lady died in a well in broad daylight, right in front of the house, with windows looking onto the well from the house. Did she fall, or was she pushed? And if she was pushed, how come no one saw her either from the house or from outside - it was after all broad daylight, and the well was slam-bang in front of the house!

The Analysis
First, let me spell out the only negative that I could find, as well as what I think might be the only possible explanation for it. The characterisation is non-existent. You just do not manage to get into the skin of any character in the entire book. You totally fail to visualise the character in your mind, or his mannerisms. A character does not only mean the physical aspects, but the entire set of beliefs, behaviours etcetera that go into an individual identity. The characters have not been fleshed out enough. I got the feeling that the aspect of characterisation has been deliberately underplayed. If that is indeed the case, then I for one don't have any issues. 

The plot is excruciatingly slow in its build-up - not contrived, just slow. And the pace is deliberate, and adds to the overall book in no small amount. The background, and the scene of the crime are superbly created. In fact, Sharath has the art of using words to create visual imagery. Right from the first page, you can visualise the scene in your mind - the road on which the inspector drives, the home of Hamid Pasha are all superbly created in your mind. This sets the pace for the book, as the murder scene, the house and its frontage, the well, the grounds and the rooms are virtually erected right in front of your eyes. This enables you to appreciate the impossibility of it all: as you can get a 360-degree view in your mind of the murder scene. It also ensures understanding of the interrogation, since you can actually visualise the scene in your mind. This is a powerful talent, and one which I have seen in only the very best of writers. Thus, the current author has the talent; it is upto him how much he can tap into this reservoir on his innate ability. 

The investigation is a thing of beauty, and in the end you have to admit to a logical conclusion. Every seemingly unsolvable knot has been untangled, and every alternative explained. The lines of interrogation shown are extremely pertinent, and very clear in themselves. The entire plot has been constructed with expertise, and at no point do you get the feeling of unreality. In fact, Agatha Christie bores me, but this novel I enjoyed despite it being of a similar genre. And the reason for that is the visual imagery and wordplay, that elevates the book into a class effort!

That is also why I get the feeling that characterisation has been deliberately underplayed. I cannot say more, as anything else I state with dampen the enjoyment for the reader. This book is a good one to read, and easy on the pace. The language is simple and easy to understand; you dont have to be a genius in "angrezi" to fathom the content. It is a light read, and interesting. Those who  are avid readers, or whodunit fans, or like light fiction can regard it as a must-read. If you are fond of slam-bang action on every paragraph and get easily bored by prose that relies on lines of investigation and visual imagery, then problably this is not for you. But, as I said, whodunit fans, avid readers or those on the lookout for a light read can regard it as a must-read

Comments

  1. Thanks for the review, Vishal. The point on characterization is well made. Will try not to make the same mistakes next time. I am glad you liked the images and description; something I have been working on for a while now and hope to improve at as time goes on.

    I've read in some other reviews that the resolution at the end was not explained. Glad to see you had no issues with that :-)

    Thank you again.

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  2. I like this blog article really interesting.

    ReplyDelete

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