‘Poetry is like pooping. If it is in you it will come out’, said a young American poetess to an adulatory Nepalese audience at American embassy here a few years ago. A graduate of creative writing from an American university, she was promoting the course here among the wannabe Nepalese youth with some cash in their pockets. She was wearing a low cut blouse and a skirt. Her words ring often in my ears and make me shiver.
The writer is what he is. Is he the best British? Writing life is immoral and unprincipled, one might think. The only validity could be the quality of work a writer produces. So back to my question.
Times Of India is organising a literary festival in Mumbai. It has invited many feminist writers from across the world and an Indian writer accused of rape from his jail seclusion. Let us see who are dropping out. TOI can not be denied the credit of imagination here–which causes a similar outrage like its editorials.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with books that cross genres. The best historical novels are as much history as fiction. However, it is a golden rule that a book must know who and what it is. One of the problems with The Royal Enigma is that it suffers from a serious identity crisis.
Is it meant to be a history? If so, of what? Nepal? India? The relationship between the two? The impact of colonialism on the wider region?
Or is it meant to be a novel… the personal story of Nawin, who crops up for whole chapters at a time. Sometimes, living out his life, at others merely as a cipher to be used to have a conversation with someone of an opposing viewing point.
Or is it a polemic against the changing world?
From the title I expected some kind of analysis of the role of royalty in Nepal, or maybe a biography of one or more of the Royal family. In the event, I’m afraid it doesn’t really work on any front.
I really struggled with this book from start to finish. In general I applaud the advent of e-publishing to the extent that it allows good works by unknown authors to reach a public willing to give them a chance. However, there are also times when I do feel that the ability to put out a book quickly and relatively easily is just too tempting. Books reach the world ill-prepared. Try as I might to be positive, this is a case in point.
The Royal Enigma needs three things: a proper sense of direction, a serious edit and a translator with a better grasp of English.
As it stands, it is a number of barely related strands that aren’t tied together in any cohesive fashion. There is detail in here and it could be put to good use, but as a whole, it simply fails.
Trying to extricate the various strands, let’s start where the book starts with Nawin’s story. We meet him as a child, at election time, when the children are more excited by the flags and balloons than their parents are by the politicians’ speeches. We meet his family and gain some insight into the local life… and then there is a tragedy. And life moves on. Death and new birth and more problems. None of this is explored in sufficient depth for the characters to be ‘real’. Events happen. Then more events happen. And sometimes we are told how some people feel about it… but mostly we’re not, and we never get to spend enough time sharing those reactions to ‘feel’ anything ourselves in response.
Then suddenly we’re into a we’re into Operation Blue Star (whatever that was) and a hopscotch backwards and forwards through Indian history: Indira Ghandi’s return to power, the previous State of Emergency, asides into the political state of play in Pakistan, in Punjab and elsewhere and so ultimately to Indira’s death which (albeit briefly) brings us back to Nawin and his student friends.
Without anything of interest to disturb us having happened in the meantime Nawin has graduated and found himself unable to find work in India and so (being a Nepali citizen – possibly the first we’ve learnt of that) he heads over the border, where he decides to take part in the national games. Cue an essay on the behaviour of royalty and officialdom during the games: Nawin’s own experience is nailed in five sentences.
And so it goes on. Somewhere along the line our hero gets married… or at least turns out to have got married – there’s no meeting or love affair or wedding. I’m not even sure the poor woman gets a name.
The shame of it all is: there is a plot here. It needs a lot more work, but there is a story lurking in the background. All of the historical research that has simply been dumped on the page needs to be ditched well away from it. Aspects of it should be allowed to seep in, subtly, rarely, purely as background colour. The plot needs to be taken apart and set out as a simple time-line – with the gaps then filled in. If Nawin is good enough to play at the national games, let us see him learning the sport, give us a game or two, allow us to watch him develop. Develop all of the key characters. Give them names and backstories and characteristics…. But again only allow in as much of that as drives Nawin’s story.
That will provide the ingredients, which then those ingredients need to be built into the drama by allowing us to see how and why our protagonist does what he does, in a single flow. We need to engage with the characters to be able to feel for them, they need to be ‘real’.
Then finally, if the book is to succeed in English, it does need work on the use of the language. Quirky phraseology in translations can work. Particularly with some of the Asiatic languages, it can be used to capture the particular rhythm and way of speaking that exists in those languages which is so different to the western inflexions. To begin with, that was what I felt I was in for, and I was reasonably happy with it, but as the book progresses the constructions worsen.
Sometimes it is the choice of words that is simply wrong in the rural often being used for in the countryside. The king was coroneted rather than crowned. This doesn’t hinder meaning, but jars and interrupts flow. At other times (presumably technical) expressions are used with an assumption that the reader will understand them Every winter people in the country faced load shedding half the time, as the rivers dried up after the monsoons and the power generation plummeted. I am guessing that we’re talking about power cuts (or power outages for the US audience) but I’m not sure.
These sound like small criticisms but they occur so frequently that they become a major distraction. To talk of a newspaper’s English translation as being so crude that it reported the sound of firing by Dipendra as Rat-Rat-Rat… but then in the very next paragraph speak of someone chocking with laughter does kind of undermine one’s own argument.
In other places I got so lost that I had literally no idea what was being grasped at.
I would love to be kind about this book, but my first duty as a reviewer is to be honest – and I am afraid that this is not so much a book as a ‘first draft’. It needs a lot more work.
Summary: Some interesting ideas and the making of a good story lie behind this book, but I can’t genuinely recommend it as it stands. More work on the ideas could produce something really worth reading.
The Royal Enigma page has attracted more than 150 views and 25 downloads in the last few days. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/493225
This industry runs on the energy of the authors. Obviously one exhorts them to come out with better, not ‘more’, as suggested here. Also learn respecting the books that have sales and are priced higher than $0.99. They have substance. Promote them to promote your sales. Some companies are actually obfuscating the real sales of such books to promote the books they have charged money to promote.
If Idie too went the way of Syndie, this industry too will sink. Kick those business consultants out of your payroll, who come in the way of a good writing. It alone will survive everything.
James what you think about a father selling his daughter to a rich leper for two mules. Her lover slaughtering her husband’s family one night, and her rejection of her father later? I find it difficult to believe that all the people act so selfishly in the time period the novel is set. Every character is conspiring for something and is ready to cheat even to his nearest ones. The lover had to piss in front of the women and all her employees to be accepted by her, else he was also about to be kicked out of her life by her. It can not be a classic novel as it is so full of formula. Take the slaughter of whole gang of bandits by her lover. It is more a crime thriller, I think.