One great thing about enrolling in a library is that you can read all the best-sellers without beating yourself up on spending so much money, if, at the end of the day, you don’t really care for them. Not only that, the book lies in your bookshelf for ages, gathering dust and staring at you with longing eyes — Pick me up! Pick me up! You feel for it, (at least I do!) but there’s no way anything will persuade you to even touch it with a barge-pole. In fact, I’m seriously considering dismantling my home library; I can’t believe I have cut down so many trees just for the utterly selfish motive of possession, sweet as it might be! (Yeah, yeah, am seriously considering sanyaas as well :D)
Well, the book I read recently doesn’t exactly belong to this category. The Palace of Illusions is eminently readable, and it definitely has its moments.
I liked the portrayal of the brother-sister act, and Draupadi’s ambiguous relation with Krishna. I liked how some of the back stories were fitted in seamlessly into the narrative. I liked the language a great deal better than some of her earlier work, which felt a bit too descriptive. There was restraint and yet, the ability to surprise with some lovely turns of phrases.
But overall, it didn’t appeal to me. The book, written from Draupadi’s POV, didn’t do anything for me. The image I always had of Draupadi was someone strong and feminine, with tremendous grace under fire, and moved to extreme anger only when provoked extremely. That picture was wiped out, and replaced by one of a petulant, stubborn brat, and that didn’t help at all! Many of the scenes where I expected her character to really shine through with intensity (too many to enumerate here) were dealt with rather perfunctorily. For example, I would have really liked to read some incidents (after all, quite a bit of the book was fantasy, so why not conjure up imaginary events as well?) through which we see how she interacted with her husbands. The sari scene too felt very low-key — I had expected this to be really intense. And though the Karna angle was a good one, it somehow didn’t gel for me. It felt like a romantic novel had lost its way and wound up here.
The Mahabharatha is a familiar tale, even though every reading throws up surprises. I feel the book should have remained faithful to Draupadi’s narration, excluding parts that she may not have been aware of, instead of trying to cram in everything through some means or the other.
Overall, it was a good read, but fell short of becoming a really great novel.
On a side note:
I don’t know what’s with me, but when I imagined the battle scenes, the scores of people dying, and the utter destruction, it really moved me to tears. It didn’t help either that Australia was screened on the telly later that day, and I found myself crying buckets when the bombing began. War is so awful, isn’t it? I can’t even begin to imagine its horrors, to imagine being a soldier in the thick of action out there. And it struck me that all the great fantasy books like Lord of the Rings, Erragon, Harry Potter (to a lesser extent), Dune, etc. were all about battles, heroics, and killing, killing, killing! Can’t we build gentler fantasies? 😦