Title: The Girl in the Garden
Author: Kamala Nair
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (a division of Hatchette)
Genre: Literary fiction with some magical realist and Gothic elements.
Where I got it: I was provided a finished copy from the publisher through TLC book tours in exchange for an honest review.
By the time you read this I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India. You will have woken up along and found the diamond ring I left on the bedside table and beneath it, this stack of papers that you now hold.These are the opening lines of Kamala Nair's often strange and genre-bending debut, The Girl in the Garden. I have to admit that after my recent reading of Anuradha Roy's An Atlass of Impossible Longing, I was worried that the two books would have too much in common (both family sagas set in India), and I would be bored. However, those opening lines indicated that this was a different kind of book, and it was. Nair introduces a mystery in those opening lines, the first of many, and the first pages are some of the most engaging in the book.
Nair's narrator is Rahkee, a young girl, growing up in America with her Indian immigrant parents. In the summer of her eleventh year, her mother proposes that they go to India to visit her family as an anecdote to a recent spell of depression that has befallen her. The early chapters of the book introduce the players (Rahkee's mothers complex family) and begin to unravel the book's many mysteries. Nair's descriptions of the landscape are lush and inviting, but it soon becomes clear that the something dark is lurking just underneath. In fact, this family has many secrets that reveal themselves one by one as Rahkee tells the story of this single summer.
Like I said, I found the first pages of the novel instantly engaging, but through the next hundred pages, I felt the pace of the book slow down. However, in the final hundred pages, there were so many surprises and I was glad I stuck with it. The title character, the mysterious "Girl in the Garden" is introduced about a hundred pages in, and once we meet her, the book really comes to life. Up until that point, the book reads as a typical family saga, a tale of two cultures meeting, but in the last hundred pages, in particular, the novel becomes something else. Ashoka, the small town where the novel is set, is a mystical place, filled with secrets and stories. Rahkee's aunts are always telling these fables to her and her young cousins: ghost-stories, monsters in the garden, snakes in the grass. Nair is a student of literature, and many of the tropes in her novel are straight out of the Gothic playbook. The twists and turns of the plot reminded me of Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca as much as they reminded me of anything. In the end, the book is about ghosts, and how the past haunts and oppresses. It is about the damage and decay that secrets cause, and the strength of family to withstand them.
I was disappointed by the end of the book, which felt abrupt to me, and the framing device that fashions the book as a flashback needed a bit more flesh to be successful. However, the meat is in the middle of this one. What this book has to offer is a clear, fresh narrative voice, lively and subtle description, and a twisty plot.
Be sure to visit the other stops on this tour as well:
Monday, June 27th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Tuesday, June 28th: Simply Stacie
Wednesday, June 29th: Reading on a Rainy Day
Thursday, June 30th: Stiletto Storytime
Tuesday, July 5th: Book Club Classics!
Thursday, July 7th: Stephanie’s Written Word
Monday, July 11th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, July 12th: Coffee and a Book Chick
Wednesday, July 13th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Friday, July 15th: Chick Lit Reviews
Monday, July 18th: Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, July 19th: Dolce Bellezza
Wednesday, July 20th: Life in Review
Monday, July 25th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, July 26th: Joyfully Retired
Friday, July 29th: Book Snob