Let’s begin by saying that I’m not a great follower of short stories. I’ve read very few anthologies in my life. The last one I read was a collection by Khushwant Singh. I’ve never reviewed short stories before, so its a difficult proposition. Unlike a novel I can’t reveal the plot, because that is what holds a short story together! Something tells me that writing this review will be trickier than reading it!!
I picked up Madhulika Liddle’s book for two reasons:
A) The title of the book The Lawfully Wedded Husband really caught my fancy.
B) I’ve been reading a lot of fiction & non-fiction lately and I thought a collection of stories would be a good breather
So what did I think of it?
Short stories by nature are tricky. They need to be wholesome in the sense that a story must do everything that a novel or novella does but it has to do it very quickly. It needs to be concise and must tell you enough about its charecters that you know them in and out. Also, short stories often tend to revolve around a central theme and event, the passage of time is just incidental. If we look at Liddle’s collection under these parameters it fares fairly well.
Westland and the author have labelled this collection under the genre Crime Fiction. While most of the stories do fall under this category, there are just a few that don’t and in that case I feel this categorisation falls short. Crusader, St George and the Dragon and On the Train are hardly crime thrillers!
The play of humor and particularly black humour is reasonably apt. The stories hook you right at the start and like a good suspence plot it keeps you engrossed. Some of twists are predictable for instance, Feet of Clay, On the Train and Hourie. Long before the end of these stories I knew what could be the possible end.
The characters are real and believable. Some of the characters stay with you. I particularly liked Ruby from A Tale of a Summer Vacation and the narrator Madhu (is this story autobiographical?) from A brief Lesson in Trust and even Hourie! They are troublesome in ways that you don’t expect them to be!
The opening story Sum Total would make for an excellent film if developed. Mental illness and a little bit of macabre works. Also Silent Fear has all the elements of being a supernatural thriller. And Number 63 will make for a classic whodunnit! And for My Lawfully Wedded Husband I somehow imagined the characters as Vidya Balan and Shaswata (Bob Biswas)! Now if you read the book you’ll know!
The stories are a quick read. A perfect book as your bed time read unless the characters haunt you! Crime fiction often tends to do that. Madhulika’s characters won’t haunt you. The mysteries are all solved and some of them really stun you –A Brief Lesson in Trust and Number 63 in particular were pleasant surprises.
Lastly, the title caught my husband’s attention too when he caught me reading it one night! “Oh! This book is about me then!” he said. I had long finished the title story and I sighed, “Oh! You wish!!”
I am definitely hiding the book deep inside the bookshelf…lest he reads it out of curiosity!
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