Across the Mystic Shore by Suroopa Mukherjee is a tale set in New Delhi and Varanasi. It explores the mystery surrounding a young boy born in an ashram, with four women forced to confont their past lives when the infant turns up in an upper-middle-class Bengali household.
This book - one of six that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint in April - seems promising when you begin, with a velvet-like texture to the language and an old-fashioned feel to the narrative, like a sweeping saga written in the 1940s. I won't go on about the saga relating to the annoying errors that turn up in the text of this book (see my earlier post titled Macmillan New Righting); I want to be fair to the author by reviewing the book without focusing on something I feel the editors are responsible for.
There is no doubt that this book has been written with an enormous amount of passion, and it's clear the author has a great sense of what ingredients are needed for a mesmerising tale. The subject matter here is unique to other fiction I've read from India, and there seems to have been a bold attempt to explore aspects of Indian life that are often taboo in that country. The characters first struck me as strong and appealing, with their views of the world they live in accessible and frank, and a nice sense of setting was evoked. However, the positives, in the end, weren't enough to keep me engaged.
The weakness of the novel, for me, was the author's decision - or maybe it wasn't deliberate - to move the point of view from one character to another, often in the same paragraph, making it very difficult to feel anything for anyone for any length of time. This "head hopping" - a term used in writing groups - just didn't work for me, and in the end it stopped me from enjoying the story. The author's omniscient voice seemed to take over. I also felt there was an overuse of adverbs to qualify speech, taking away the reader's chance to work out for themselves the atmosphere being created.