The flyleaf sets this novel up best:
“Through market lanes crammed with too many people, dogs, and rickshaws, past stalls that smell of cardamom and sizzling oil, below a smoggy sky that doesn’t let through a single blade of sunlight, and all the way at the end of the Purple metro line lies a jumble of tin-roofed homes where nine-year-old Jai lives with his family. From his doorway he can spot the glittering lights of the city’s fancy high-rises, and though his mother works as a maid in one, to him they seem a thousand miles away. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line plunges readers deep into this neighbourhood to trace the unfolding of a tragedy through the eyes of a child as he has his first perilous collisions with an unjust and complicated wider world.”
I loved the premise of three friends venturing into the most dangerous corners of a sprawling Indian city as detectives to find missing classmates. But I’m feeling conflicted about this novel. I found the writing to be clunky and cumbersome, without flow. And then I read her Afterword where she gives her reasons for writing the novel and it placed it all in context for me. No doubt she is a good writer. To me the reading experience felt a little like getting lost in a crowded, overstimulating maze of a Mumbai market, from which I might never emerge…perhaps that was the point. Upon reflection, the novel is better than I realised while reading it.
I respect the author for taking on a subject which doesn’t shy away from difficult issues of squalor, pollution, poverty, slumdogs, child trafficking, inequalities, and corrupt police, without becoming a stereotypical narrative about equating poor people with their problems. She did make me taste, and smell, and feel the setting. The characters in this novel are socially the lowest of the low but they have dignity. Living in poverty is hard work and requires exceptional skills just for survival. This novel does capture all of that really well.
This is a book from the Women’s Prize for Fiction long-list (click here), but didn’t make it to the short-list (click here). It’s a list I have deep respect for and every year look forward to, because it always includes many very readable novels on interesting topics written by women from around the world.
Note: Too late I discovered a glossary in the back with Indian words which would have been helpful to know at the beginning and I wish I’d read the Afterword first. So for the publishers: make the Afterword a Foreword, and please let the reader know about the glossary before reading the book.