I must first begin with disclaimers. I was very intrigued when I picked up Madhulika Liddle’s first book ‘The Englishman’s Cameo’ – the author bio said she was an instructional designer. Well, so am I and in India I find a little known profession. And then I recalled, my friend had mentioned of her works reviewed by Liddle. Madhulika Liddle used to work for same organisation as me, though I have never met her or spoken to her. I have read her first two books, part of Muzaffar Jang series, a mystery set during Shah Jehan’s era. I was very impressed not just with story, but the research put in reflects in the chosen words and creating imagery in the story– the dresses, the utensils, customs, hierarchy, professions and so on. It was delight.
When I saw the cover this short story collection on Facebook, I loved the cover and wanted to possess the book. So, I am glad, I got this opportunity thanks to Blogadda.
Liddle’s this book is in different than her Muzaffar Jang series. It is book of collection of 12 short stories set in different parts of India – Delhi, Bombay, Moradabad, Goa, Tranquebar and so on.
Every short story writer has a style. Chekov was skilled in capturing drama in seemingly insignificant events; Fitzgerald had wit and crisp prose, Hemingway had excellent dialog, Munro has grace to weave into unknown, and O. Henry always ended his stories with a great twist. Liddle’s stories are more like on O. Henry concept that end with a twist usually. However, they are made for lighter reading, with an inherent flavour of dark humour.
My favourite stories are ‘A Tale of a Summer Vacation’, ‘Sum Total’, and eponymous ‘My Lawfully Wedded Husband’ – mostly because these stories end on high note, and surprised me even. What also works is, Liddle does describe well different worlds people live, that desultory small town, kid on vacation, a cog in high-brow politics and so on. It intrigues me how sometimes places merge with stories, such as a posh colony of Juhu, small but exotic sounding town of Tranquebar.
Having said that some of the stories were just about alright, while there were three stories that I thought were too weak, and disappointing. But, to each his/her own, I learnt from Acknowledgements that ‘Silent Fear’ had appeared first in Femina and a Google search tells me it was a popular story. Unlike Munro’s stories where characters even talk to dead, in this book, the ghost never came through for me. ‘Hourie’ and ‘Crusader’ were two other stories that had predictable ends. More since we now knew writer’s style and the ‘twist’ was the obvious answer.
Unlike her previous Muzaffar Jang books, I had mixed feelings about this book. Yet, I have no regrets about reading it, because it was a breeze to read, owing to simple, engaging writing style. I suspect mixed feelings occur, owing more to high expectation we have after reading Muzaffar Jang books. (Btw, third one is out too.) For short story lovers, it is an interesting book to look into.
If this counts, this book has indeed made me to consider visit Tranquebar once even though one of the characters said ‘there is not much to see’.