The oxymoronic title of this debut courtroom drama is enough to grab the reader’s attention of an otherwise enticing plot about love, loss and the question of marital relationships. The novel is at best crime fiction though it can be considered as a dramatic psychological fiction. The book cover is equally interesting and worth taking a look at. It shows a girl with dishevelled hair, perhaps, trying to run away from something or someone. Perhaps, this is indicative of Saysha and her personal battles. The character of Saysha and her sudden murder is the central point of the novel through which Akunuri tries to make readers aware of issues relating to mentality and women’s empowerment. However, these are underlying themes and there is no sense of over -riding philosophy that will require readers to undertake note making through the reading process. The novel revolves around characters who find themselves in the dilemma of whether to face their problems or to take an escapist route and the difference lies in the choices they make.
The plot opens in 2018 in Chennai, moves back and forth between Delhi in 2013 to Singapore and begins by telling an aspect of the novel from the perspective of Jason. This serves as a prologue to the novel after which Part 1 begins. This practice of picking up from a particular character’s perspective is done throughout the novel. This provides a detailed view of the character and enables to chart characterisation and character development. The plot revolves around Jai, Naseen and Jason and a surprising but gory murder of Naseen’s best friend, Saysha. This is what sets the pace of the plot and provides the central conflict in the plot. This is one of the climaxes of the plot that if filled with multiple climaxes. These create an up and down narrative structure of the plot, entice and allow time to take in the central problems of the novel.
The central issues are that Naseen, as a criminal lawyer is disturbed by such an incident happening to someone so close to her but is equally bent on finding out the culprit and providing justice. The main suspect in the case is the husband of the dead woman, Jai. This complicates the plot. It raises questions about marriage, its meaning, validity and marital love. It also raises questions about the extent to which an individual will go when in love and makes the reader speculate about the possibility of someone killing for or while being in love.
This may seem like a complex plot out of some movie but it is the presentation and style fo writing the novel that makes it so interesting. Akunuri knows the art of mesmerising and haunting the reader at the same time. She reveals to conceal and then vice versa. What follows is a chiaroscuro of events that seem at once almost on the verge of being deciphered and then look complicated and unmanageable. The novel draws heavily on past events to give a clear idea about the relationships of the characters, how deeply they are bonded to one another and the extent to which they feel connected or disconnected to each other. Akunuri also maintains a good balance between stroking the curiosity of the reader and making subtle revelations but never quite letting the cat out of the bag. While such a narrative structure makes it full of suspense, it also raises some important topics of discussion such as the problems of mental health, physical abuse, and the ill effect of miscommunication or not communicating at the right time and failure to seek help when in need. This echoes the line: “Fear is more powerful than influence” that has a haunting impression on the reader. The novel is full of many such moments when the reader is left aghast and set drowning in an abyss of questions about human relationships and human psyche.
The characters are dealt with in depth and they are all well rounded characters. The plot is not cluttered with too many character except Jai, Jason and Naseen and passing references to the dead Saysha. Naseen’s character is particularly and purposefully made the centre of attention. This gives the novel a feminist perspective and shows the manner in which Naseen battles the news of the loss of her best friend and yet agrees to fulfil her professional duties. In doing so she is also fulfilling her personal duties and loyalty to her late friend. This makes her a very inspiring figure in the tale and though the plot revolves around the murder, it has a lot to do with the character of Naseen who is indispensable to the novel. The character of Jai remains in the dark for most part of the novel as the prime suspect and his portrayal is such that it I shard to consider him innocent at any given point while one may want to read him in a positive light and not hold him guilty before being proven. Additionally, Jason and Noelle’s relationship takes a backseat as it is less explored though it provides some light moments in an otherwise intense novel.
Reviewed by: Tasnima Yasmin, The Literature Times