Book review: Austenistan, edited by Laleen Sukhera
Jane in Jimmy Choos
An independent writer, manuscript editor and author, the writer is based in Bengaluru.
So here`s a peek at the gentler sex of a neighbouring country. This lot is anything but cowed down, abaya-clad, meek or demure. This lot wears Western couture with elan, are generally shod in Roger Vivier and Jimmy Choos, smoke, drink, make resting bitch faces sans a qualm, join the oversubscribed Friends against Dengue Society, and are basically, a fun bunch.
There are seven stories in this collection and the writer`s glue which binds them together is — check the title again — Jane Austen, of course. Each story begins with an Austen quote, interestingly enough, most of them from the cult work Pride and Prejudice, and then proceeds to tell us about the Pakistani protagonist, her hopes and longings, her fears and anxieties, and of course her love life or lack of it.
The collection gets off to a shaky start but the tales gather strength as the book progresses and some of them are decidedly charming.
The style is not the most subtle, the phraseology is decidedly sub-continental. In every other tale, someone speaks sotto voce, is goo-goo-eyed, gets dressed to the nines and wears tea-pink outfits, though there is a refreshing reference to a Pepto-Bismol pink dress in one story.
Once in a while though, there appears a throwaway sentence that holds a whole new story in it, like this one: `Nobody had told her marriage would be so lonely.` Or this, `I pressed to the edges of my consciousness the things I knew men were capable of.` However, they remain throwaway sentences.
There is just one passing reference to people being wary about a violent country. Otherwise, this is altogether another Pakistan, populated with ingenues, shrewd aunties, grand-shand heroes, with mention of secret swinger clubs and multiple dating apps! And here`s the thing: none of the home-grown heroes make the reader`s heart beat faster while a Count in Lichtenstein, far removed from Pakistan, makes for quite the sexiest character. Go figure.
Overall though, you get the feeling that a local Book Club got together to do Austen replications/tweaks/updates, and the best picks got to go into a book…voila, Austenistan!
Austenistan; ed Laleen Sukhera, Bloomsbury, ₹350
This ran in THE HINDU LITERARY REVIEW of 10 Dec 2017.