One of the most prolific writers in India, Kiran Manral moves between genres and stories smoothly and seamlessly just like the ghost of the Windermere cottage in her book, ‘The Face at the Window’. Not many Indian authors write horror, and this is what intrigued me to pick up this one. A few pages into the story, I realized this wasn’t another one of those cliché horrors that make one roll their eyes and yawn from boredom. Kiran Manral weaves a web of intrigue, conjures up an atmosphere of dread and brings to life characters who will haunt us long after we read the last page.
After reading 100+ books every year for the last few years, I have realized that what I look for in every novel that I read is a good story. Don’t get me wrong—I love language; it is what I breathe, caress, memorize, underline and write down in my journal, but it all vaporizes in the absence of a good story. Opinions differ, and I know many readers who can sacrifice the pleasure of a good story just to be enchanted in the arms of beautiful prose. That’s not me! However, if you give me a book that has a unique plot narrated by a master storyteller in the most delightful language, you turn me into a fan of the author. That’s exactly what I found in ‘The Face at the Window’—a grasping tale told in stunning prose.
‘Memories are the kind of elusiveness that shift, change form, and remodel themselves by the second.’
‘Smiley face icons cannot hope to replace words thought out carefully in order to put a smile on the other person’s face, the sharpness or the laxity of the handwriting telling stories about the frame of mind of the writer, the smudges on the sheets of paper telling their own stories, blotches where tears might have fallen, hastily scratched out words where another would have been more appropriate, stories that the writer of the letter might not have intended to communicate.’
The story revolves around Mrs. McNally and her autobiography. Though she is penning it to reveal certain truths to her daughter Millie and granddaughter Nina, she is still unsure of the wisdom of her decision. Meanwhile, the remains of an old dead body turn up and her elusive peace is shattered once again.
‘Things went on in the same cyclical loop, spinning on towards a great cataclysm that would sweep things up into the dustbin of time, whether through an atomic war of our creation or a meteoroid coming in from space and slamming into our planet. Our civilisations and destinies and stories would be wiped out, leaving us as pure, etheric souls, rising into another level of consciousness, another existence.’
Kiran builds a thick smoky atmosphere by placing the story in a hill town with its tea estates, workers, nosy neighbours, idiosyncratic characters, mists and ghosts. I am happy that Kiran Manral departed from her earlier genres to write such an absorbing page-turner. The book made me wonder about the definition of ‘literary fiction’ and after some research, this is what I found:
- Literary fiction is ‘serious’ fiction (Oh! Really? Genre novels are not?)
- The cover looks different (That’s crazy!)
- The title is different (That’s even crazier!)
- The story is more ‘meaningful’ (HaHa… Now, this is getting funny!)
- Character is more important than plot (When nothing happens to interesting characters, there is no story. Do you mean literary novels can do away with story? Or do you mean that when you have a story, you aren’t literary?)
- Fine writing is necessary (Does that mean genre fiction does not require fine writing? Please try telling that to my editor.)
The truth is that the line between genres is thin and it is easy to stereotype a book and an author in a particular category. Anyway, since this is a review of the book and not a rant about my woes, I will stop here.
The Face at the Window is a most enjoyable read for anyone who loves a spooky, gripping story narrated with style and panache.