You know a book is truly forgettable when you don’t remember any part of it, just a few days after you finish it and put it down. I started and breezed through Oleander Girl about three weeks ago, but for many reasons I didn’t get down to writing about it. I chugged through the book at a particularly busy time of last month when there was too much happening, and I only did so because reading a book was the only time I had for myself. Writing about it was near impossible. I shelved it for later, and then nothing compelled me to get down to it. Today, I decided to write about it and not a single detail comes to mind.
Much to my disappointment, it was just so underwhelming and I felt like that wasn’t much for me to say. But most of all, I didn’t feel like writing about it because it was the kind of book that started off on a blah note, but the kind that I feel like finishing, purely because I have started it (clearly, I don’t learn from past experience). And if you’ve read enough Indian writing that begins and ends with the pining, insecure Indian woman who pins her hopes and dreams on all the wrong men and somewhere in the midst of is forced to go overseas, on the journey (literal and figurative) that will help her overcome both said lovesickness and lack of sense of self, then you are most likely going to be yawning through it and end finish the book feeling rather meh.
The only shift from the done-to-death post-marriage diaspora of Indian women angle, in this book was that the leading lady takes her journey to the United States of America before she marries the man of her dreams. Of course he is a man whose intentions and motives, personality and character you constantly question, thanks to all that he gets up to while the woman he has hooked is dillydallying overseas, finding herself. And in this case, quite literally so, as Korobi, the protagonist goes on a hunt to find her father, her roots and the very essence of what makes her the person she is.
And then some. Oleander Girl read like a dozen other stories by Indian women that have been whizzed up in a blender, and adjusted very slightly to sound “modern”. Maybe this is what happens when writers find a formula that works and spin it in as many different ways as they possibly can. When they do the same through 20 odd books, over a decade or so, it begins to get stale.I’ve read some CDB before and I couldn’t help but feel her stories follow a set pattern and beyond a point the mystery of pining Indian women is lost on me.
Oleander Girl seemed like it was a fresh new take on her kind of story telling. Don’t ask me why, but the blurb felt like it might have something new to offer. But sadly it was not to be. The scenarios felt stilted, the language sharp and ill-fitting, rather than smoothly flowing on, and the plot was downright unbelievable. By the end, I began to feel like I was being made to watch one of those blockbuster Hindi family dramas, with the implausible plot, the tear-jerker mummy-daddy scenes, the travels across the seven seas in search of love and one too many songs. The kind that is so miserably unbelievable you want to laugh out loud and shut the damn thing off. But all you can do squirm at every melodramatic scene, curse the souls who conceived these weird ideas and turned them into a film, and fast-forward through the song and dance and pray that the torture ends sooner than later.
Someone needs to teach me how to fast-forward through a bad book. Quick.