Fatal Admiration by Irfan Iqbal Gheta is a story of three people – Rishi, Shobha and Neha – brought together, some intentionally and some unintentionally, into a whirlpool of uncontrollable passion that leads to totally unexpected circumstances.
After going through a few pages I almost decided not to read the book because somehow I could not relate to, not just the characters, but also the way they talked to each other. Irfan, before sending the book for review, had asked me whether I would like to review a book that can be categorised as “mushy romantic love”. I have always had an open mind when it comes to reading so I told him, no problem, send me the book and I would read it and if possible, also publish a review of it.
So why I almost stopped reading it? At the risk of sounding boastful, the way a writer writes, matters to me a lot. Although I’m pretty open about the categories of the literature I spent time on, one thing I cannot compromise with is the writing style. The writing style needs to resonate with me and as far as Fatal Admiration goes, it didn’t.
Some context is needed.
A couple of weeks ago one of my clients and I met over beer at my place and he asked me whether I have read Chetan Bhagat. I told him I haven’t and he was quite insistent that I must. “He knows how to talk to the young audience, he understands their pain and their day-to-day dilemmas like no other contemporary writer,” he said.
The problem I faced while trying to read Chetan Bhagat was again, his writing style. I didn’t find it very fascinating. It was too simplistic for me. Perhaps it was also because just before trying to read Chetan Bhagat, I had completed Manas Ko Hans by Amritlal Nagar which, if you read the book, lifts your literary experience to a totally different dimension. After reading that, a few paragraphs of Chetan Bhagat looked very drab and uninspiring. It was like listening to Justin Bieber immediately after listening to, let us say, Luciano Pavarotti, or in the Indian context, listening to Sonu Nigam immediately after listening to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. After that, somehow, no matter how hard I tried, I could never bring myself to reading Chetan Bhagat again.
Unfortunately the same thing happened when I started reading Fatal Admiration. I was in the midst of reading The Goldfinch (I’m still reading it) by Donna Tartt and reading one of her books is an out and out intellectual experience, unfailingly. So this is some sort of injustice that happened. But this time, I was aware of my mental disposition (and more importantly, I had committed to Irfan that I would write a review for his book) and hence I forced myself to go on reading Fatal Admiration.
I’m glad I did.
As I mentioned above, Fatal Admiration is a story of three characters, Rishi and Shobha, husband-and-wife, and Neha, who is Shobha’s cousin. Rishi is obsessed with Neha and cannot come to terms with the fact that she is not attracted to him in any way, and to rub salt to the wounds, she gets her heart broken by another thankless person and then in a rebound, falls in love with another person.
The story begins with Rishi finding abandoned leggings and panties in his bedroom, sprawled upon his own bed, belonging to Neha, whom he has craved for, for many years. He talks about how the sight had set his imagination on fire and heightened his expectations inordinately. The reader never gets to learn how the leggings and the panties ended up there (or whether it was a random act or had a purpose to it) but the scene definitely sets stage for a psychological incarceration that is tantalising as well as erotic for the male protagonist. It’s like reading wrong signs at the wrong time. Undergarments have been left on his bed, he knows that the person sitting in the drawing room is sitting without her undergarments (or this is what he assumes anyway) and the person sitting without her undergarments, he conveniently assumes, knows that he has seen the undergarments. It was like an oasis to someone lost in a desert.
In the beginning, he is not communicating his thoughts vocally or through email, he is simply jotting them down in his moleskin notebook.
As the turn of events takes place, it is revealed to him that the notebook is read by the subject of his enchantment.
Henceforth a series of interactions take place between Rishi and Neha with intermittent references to his wife Shobha who happens to be Neha’s cousin sister. The interactions alternate between loose talk and passionate, although one way, physical longing. The style of conversations is quite peculiar and if you have never read such literature you may also find it enchanting in a twisted way. Most of the story is narrated in monologues. The characters either talk to the reader or to each other through emails and notes left in a red Moleskin notebook.
Though immature and sometimes even awkward, the dialogues are quite engaging in a sense that, they seem to be coming from people who would actually talk the way they do and if Irfan has purposely done that, he has a great talent for getting under the skin of his characters, just in the manner Nabokov could do in Lolita. They also give you a voyeuristic experience.
This is where I contradict myself. There are lots of clichés and jargons in the narrative, especially within the dialogues (would you say to your object of desire, “I would like to be in your good books”?) They seem jarring so this is something you may have to ignore. On many occasions the language seems very artificial, something that we don’t normally use while talking to each other. But that will improve as he writes more and gets more comfortable with the language.
If you like a good story that goes fast and ends fast and has a totally unexpected turn of events, you’re going to like this book.