I was reading Cuckold over the weekend. I had just been to Strand Book exhibition and picked up more than a handful of books. I had left out Cuckold out of consideration for my already-exceeded budget. But one is always more eager to read the books that one didn’t buy. So it was with Cuckold. I was able to lay my hands on the book within a week at the library and started reading it, even while all the books that I had bought moved away from my bedside to the book shelf.
Not many people will write a review on a half-read book (or do they, one can’t be sure in such things). But I can’t wait to write this post till I finish the book. And the point is not to write a review for a 10-year old book, it is to make my point. So here I go.
The book is gripping. There is absolutely no doubt about that. It has a charm that only historicals can reproduce. And it is much more than a historical. Probably something more on the lines of War and Peace in terms of its philosophical content in the face of war or a Lord of the Rings in bringing a new world in front of your eyes. Ever since I ‘graduated’ to read heavy modern literary works, such a book is a rarity.
It again raises that taboo question in my mind. What is the objective of a novel? What is more important – form or content, style or story? There are so many books (that are part of most Top 100 lists) that I have read with admiration for the linguistic and creative skills of the author, almost usually at a snail’s pace. The story doesn’t drag you in – you are always outside it, looking at it in awe of the author. I have been reading Joyce’s Ulysses for the last four years – it challenges my intellect but doesn’t satiate my yearning for a story.
Cuckold is different. I was taken back to my school days when I always wanted to finish any book in a single sitting, how muchever long that sitting took. The days when a Dickens or Scott or Stevensen or Kalki was able to take me along with them to a bygone era. Kiran Nagarkar has been able to do that to a much more intellectually-demanding adult mature reader. (And I am demanding – I can’t read a Sidney Shelton or Jeffrey Archer anymore.)
There are enough innovations in language, style and form. I don’t think anybody has ever attempted to tell a historical tale so authentically using contemporary language. Sometimes it reads like an Eliyahu Goldratt bestseller or a Dilbert strip. I completely buy into his point. We dont know for sure what kind of language was used by historical characters in their converations – we might as well stop speculating and write in contemporary style. This approach has given the author unlimited liberty and he has been to tear away all shackles that a historical novel can impose on his writing.
It is interesting to think from the viewpoint of the husband of Meera, who was insanely in love with a God. History has been kind to her. She has been immortalized because of her love for God. But spare a thought for the man who married her. She was in love with someone else even if it was a God. She was persecuted by the family for not acting like a royale? But for the man, what would have been more important was that she didn’t love him. ‘We can exorcise the devils, how do we get rid of a god’ is what the protoganist would have thought and that is what he thinks in this book (so far!).
I had to tear myself away from the book to come to office and now I am itching to go back home to hear more from Mewar.
I think that is the real success of an author. The reader should be yearning to go back to finish the book. Such books stand the test of time. I think this book will.