“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Sonia Faleiro / ISBN: 9780143063445 / Publication Date: 2008 / Publisher: Penguin „
~A Time to Live, A Time to Die~
In the small and sleepy Goan village of Azul three men stand by the side of the grave of The Girl who drowned herself in the sea. Nobody in the village seems very surprised because Azul is known to people throughout the area as the 'Village of the Dead' and The Girl is just the latest to give her body to the perpetuation of the village's tragic reputation. It's as if her destruction was written into her DNA, pre-destined from birth to repeat the mistakes and anguish of earlier generations. The three men are tied to her story - the priest who buried her and the two men who each loved her and each of whom she loved in return in her own way.
One man is Simon, owner of the town's shop, a man with ambitions to have a cafe and not just shelves of dull out of date produce. The other is Luke, a traveller passing through, capturing The Girl's heart before moving on again.
~Here there and everywhere~
The book flips around between past and present and between narrators. We know from the very first page that she is dead and how she died - so there's no spoiler in that - but the only question is why she did it. In the second half of this small volume, the two men find The Girl's diary, hidden away where she knew onl Simon would know to look for it. The diary reveals her story and helps the men to unpeel the layers of her past and her reason to kill herself.
~A very un-Indian novel#
I love Indian writing and I filled my bag with books before returning to England from our holiday. However I bought and read 'The Girl' when I was in India and I read most of it almost 'in situ' - not far from the place in which it was set. I like to read books in their location whenever I can but I wasn't able to reconcile Faleiro's Goa with the one I could see. I bought it because I had so loved Sonia Faleiro's non-fiction book 'Beautiful Thing' about the Mumbai dance bar girls that I was hunting for her only work of fiction.
I interviewed Faleiro for www.curiousbookfans.co.uk a few weeks ago and asked her if she planned to return to fiction. She said that she didn't, that she was committed to non-fiction. After reading The Girl, I think she's made the right decision. As a writer of non-fiction she's outstanding; she writes fact so richly that fiction pales into insignificance and as a writer of fiction she seemed to struggle to find the fluency she has when writing fact.
I couldn't help feeling when I was reading that the style was a little contrived - as if she was writing in the style of someone else, someone I don't know because it's not a style I enjoy or would seek out. It's very definitely not at all an Indian style of writing - you could be forgiven for thinking it's set in South or Central America rather than the sub-continent. 'The Girl' is written in what felt to me like a self-consciously over-wordy and rather contrived style that didn't seem to come naturally - like a novel created in a creative writing class to illustrate someone else's way of writing rather than a novel delivered from the heart.
Some sentences are almost painful to read because they're just too 'full'. Here's one picked at random to show you what I mean;
"Later, as the sun reaches its peak, there is the ice-cream man with paper tubs of frozen chocolate that melt as we stand eating by the gate, and right before lunch Joao's enterprising boy Felipe stops by with his van of all-sorts - tight knots of green twine, discarded oil drums to store water in, knobbly sticks of candles impossible to live without during the monsoon when electric wires somersault nimbly off their poles and lie dormant for days."
Wow - heavy or what? If you're the type of person who only inhales at the end of a sentence you'll probably have passed out on the floor somewhere about two thirds of the way through.
~Too much detail perhaps?~
The pictures Faleiro paints of the village and its people sometimes felt to me like they were just too detailed. In places they were perfect - the descriptions shimmering off the page with the Indian heat or the people leaping off the page with believability and vibrancy. But when the same over-the-top treatment is given to every place, person and minor event, the power diminishes very quickly. I read somewhere that one way to tell when people are lying is that they use too many verbs. I suspect when a writer is uncomfortable with their work they use too many adjectives and too much detail. You might imagine given this wordiness that the book is a big one, something you'll need to develop muscles to carry around but you'd be wrong. The Girl is only 124 pages long but sadly it 'felt' a lot longer.
Had this book not been written by a writer I admire and respect I would have given up within the first fifty pages but I slogged on through, occasionally enjoying the colourful local characters but never really feeling that I understood any of the key characters, particularly The Girl herself. Once I learned of why she killed herself, I couldn't help thinking it was a really silly reason to take your life. Knowing WHY didn't actually help me to really understand.
Sonia Faleiro is a wonderful writer and I fully intend to buy anything and everything that she writes in future but this isn't a wonderful book. I think every author should be forgiven for a bad first novel and 'The Girl' won't put me off wanting to read her again.
Published by Penguin
These details are for the paperback version of the book available on Amazon. I have the hardback version that's not available outside India.
For more info on Sonia and to read my interview with her, please go to www.curiousbookfans.co.uk