A grand saga on relationships, this novel is Anita Nair’s most ambitious opus yet. Through an array of complex narrative techniques, in a brilliant language sparkling with extraordinary intelligence, she unfolds a story, nay, a garland of stories, using kathakali, the classical performing art form of Kerala, as a mega-metaphor. That she picks kathakali, an international reference point to Kerala culture, and, to a large extent, Indian culture, for this purpose, is a statement in itself. Ruminations on the nature of true art, the artist’s jealous mistress who excludes everything else, expatiations on popular art that is obtained by diluting classical art to ensure global success and good money—all in the context of kathakali—are hitherto not encountered in Indian English fiction. It is heartening to note that this novel deals with such questions with the seriousness they deserve, unlike certain other very successful novels written in the backdrop of Kerala’s culture.
The narrative follows a unique pattern. Opening with a prologue and wrapped up with an epilogue, and, in between, the main body broken up into three books with three sections in each, making up nine in total, each titled with the navarasas as found in Bharata’s Natyashastra, it has each character speaking in the first person—long soliloquies, or dramatic monologues, reminiscent of long narrative sequences from a kathakali performance. The author expounding directly on each of the navarasas, at the beginning of the sections, produces a choric effect; the detailed interpretations are certainly meant for the outsider or for those less informed in ancient Indian aesthetics